Rabbi Alan Silverstein of Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell has been elected president of MERCAZ Olami, the Zionist arm of the Conservative movement. He is serving a four-year term that began in February.
He succeeds Dr. Stephen Wolnek, who died on Jan. 5.
Silverstein, who has served Agudath Israel since 1979, is a local, national, and international leader of the Conservative movement. He has served as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues and the International Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement, and as chair of the Masorti Israel Foundation since 2010.
But in a March 15 phone conversation with NJJN, he expressed his excitement at taking this position in particular.
“This is the one table where all the various Conservative/Masorti organizations should sit together to address the issues facing the Jewish world as a collective movement,” he said. He pointed out that each of the other bodies he headed included only a partial list of movement arms and leaders.
He acknowledged that as he takes on his new responsibilities, there are issues to address. He listed three, to start with, which all fall under the theme of “hasbara,” or advocacy for Conservative Judaism. The first is to resurrect the movement’s image from the dust heap. “The decline [in Conservative Judaism] is not nearly as dire as what people say,” he said. Contrary to what he called “flawed interpretations of the data” from the most recent Pew Study, Conservative Judaism is actually holding steady, at 1.2 million members of affiliated congregations since 2000, he said.
His second goal is to shine a spotlight on the movement’s worldwide presence. Silverstein pointed out that while in 1960 Conservative Judaism had no presence outside the United States, today “there are 220 Masorti congregations affiliated with United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism [outside the U.S.], and the number is growing all the time.”
And third, he will seek to highlight what he called “the new vitality to be developed” coming from five seminaries on four continents (compared with just one several decades ago) as well as from expanding global youth movements — both NOAM, the international counterpart to United Synagogue Youth in America, and MAROM, for college-age students.
“The Conservative movement has a great future,” Silverstein said.
Silverstein is the author of Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930; It All Begins With A Date: Jewish Concerns About Intermarriage; and Preserving Judaism in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred.
He has also served as president of the West Essex Clergy Association, the MetroWest Board of Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly’s NJ Region, and the NJ Coalition of Religious Leaders; as vice president of the National Council of Synagogues; and as a member of the National Rabbinic Cabinet of United Jewish Appeal.
Silverstein holds both rabbinic ordination and a doctorate in Jewish history from the Jewish Theological Seminary.