Facing $1 million deficit, Conservative movement leaders ax college program

Despite a budget deficit double what was expected, the leader of the Conservative movement’s synagogue umbrella group says it will balance its budget within two years.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, the CEO of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, said his organization was anticipating a budget hole of more than $1 million in 2013 — well beyond the anticipated $544,000 gap.

Nevertheless, the number is significantly lower than the $3 million and $2.7 million deficits the USCJ ran in 2012 and 2011.

Wernick said the deficit resulted from a continuing decline in the dues paid by member synagogues to the USCJ and a failure to meet a $1.69 million fundraising goal.

Wernick said he expects to bring the budget into balance through a combination of cost cutting and increased fundraising, adding that the organization already has $1 million in donation commitments for the coming year.

Among the cuts announced is the deferral of Koach, the organization’s college outreach program serving some 25 campuses and about 3,000 students. Koach was nearly eliminated last year, but an 11th-hour fundraising campaign granted the program a temporary reprieve.

“We remain committed to the notion that Conservative Judaism needs to have a meaningful presence on college campuses,” Wernick said, noting that he hoped the program would continue in some form even though the financial resources are not available at present.

USCJ sought to accentuate the positive this week, emphasizing the organization’s upcoming biennial celebration in October in Baltimore and noting that with $40 million in assets, the group was not in long-term financial danger. Wernick said the organization was exploring ways to turn some of those assets into cash.

USCJ serves some 800 member synagogues, the bulk of them in North America. — jta