September 5, 2007

by Reb Yudel
Solomon Schechter, z'l

Looks like the Conservative movement couldn't pull it off. Metropolitan Schechter announced last week that a major donor pulled out (after losing his shirt in a failed hedge fund? Just speculating.) and this particular experiment in non-Orthodox Jewish education will have reached its end.

I'm rather late to the game of bemoaning the Conservative movement's failures (Milton Steinberg was eloquently and vehemently denouncing it back in the 1940s) but there do seem to be some important lessons that should be learned:

* If you want to start a High School, name it after someone who can write a seven-figure check, not someone who was American Judaism's Great British Hope a century ago.

* If you're relying on pledges from millionaires, make sure they keep their money in the bank, not a hedge fund.

* If you're relying on millionaires, you're probably making a major mistake. Unlike billionaires, millionaires suffer financial reversals. (For one thing, billionaires start hedge funds that take money from millionaires). Millionaires, however, tend to underestimate the reserves of people who are not themselves millionaires; who might in fact be, even, on scholarship.

Alas, the grand old days of Jewish fundraising -- when everyone was squeezed until they hurt -- are now only history. Today, the only polite squeeze is the tuition bill.

This has been a problem for more than 15 years now; I remember in the early '90s feeling the lost opportunity when the UJA's Operation SomethingOrOrther -- Exodus I think it was -- divided up the campaign target of several hundred million dollars into "fair-share" local obligations. Then San Francisco Federation exec Brian Lurie called the major donors into his office, told them the goal -- and they all wrote out their checks and went home. Low overhead is fine and good, but something is lost when retail shnoring is left to the various "help the poor in Israel" telephone operations in Brooklyn and Monsey.

* There's no upside in having the "Conservative" in your brand -- unless you value exclusivity over mass Jewish education.

More later. Anyone who wants to organize an "independent" minyan in Teaneck, leave a note in the comments section.

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