Texas Jewish Post (Fort Worth, Tex.), Vol. 64, No. 16, Ed. 1 Thursday, April 22, 2010 Page: 8 of 24
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8 I April 22, 2010 TEXAS JEWISH POST $ SINCE 1947
Rabbi Steven Wernick visits Dallas with
revitalized vision for Conservative Judaism
By Rachel Gross
The Metroplex is home to five
Conservative synagogues, each of
which has a unique "face" in the
community. The goal of the United
Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
is to support these congregations
and provide resources for their suc-
Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive
vice president and CEO of the United
Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
(USCJ), visited Dallas last month to
meet with Conservative rabbis and
lay leaders. They discussed how to
develop leadership and make the
prayer experience meaningful, en-
riching, exciting and inspiring.
Wernick said another important
priority is to enhance education —
an integral part of Conservative
Judaism. The aims are to produce
materials and resources to further
"Education is one of the hall-
marks of Conservative Judaism," he
said. "We study classical texts over-
laid with knowledge of modernity.
We're committed to education —
not only the memorization of chap-
ter and verse, but the study of Torah
in its classical, traditional way, plus
the knowledge of modernity to en-
hance the human spirit."
USCJ is a national organization
made of up about 700 synagogues
across North America. Founded in
1913, its mission is to strengthen con-
gregations and produce educational
and religious programs to meet the
needs of congregants. Four congre-
gations in the Metroplex — Anshai
Torah, Beth Torah, Shearith Israel
and Fort Worth's Ahavath Sholom
— are affiliated with the USCJ.
Wernick began his position last
July. Since then, the United Syna-
gogue has been in the process of
restructuring to focus its efforts on
building relationships with congre-
gations. He said Conservative syna-
gogues want resources to reinforce
them, as well as a best-practices
model of success and the revitaliza-
tion of youth programs.
"There is a strong call for a con-
sistent and compelling message of
who we are and why it's relevant,"
he said. "We don't exist without lo-
cal communities, and if those don't
flourish, there is no reason for us
to be around. Our purpose is to
strengthen them, and understand-
ing what each one's successes and
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Rabbi Steven Wernick became ex-
ecutive vice president and CEO of the
United Synagogue of Conservative
Judaism in July 2009. His mission is to
strengthen Conservative congrega-
tions across the country.
challenges are, we can provide the
necessary support and synergy. We
have a lot of work to do, and it's a tre -
Over the past year, the United
Synagogue has worked with fewer
resources, reducing its staff and
budget by 12 percent. Wernick said
the biggest challenge has been orga-
nization and communication.
Another issue he mentioned is
the perceived notion that Conser-
vative Judaism is on a downward
spiral. Although Wernick admitted
that the USCJ is partly to blame,
demographics and the changing na-
ture of society are also factors.
"The Conservative movement
may be getting smaller, but it's be-
coming more engaged," he said.
"People understand the need for a
strong, rational, centrist approach
to Judaism. Conservative Judaism
is where tradition and modernity
meet. We have turned a corner and
people are confident about the fu-
Wernick added that even though
Conservative synagogues have chal-
lenges, he is certain the quality of
leadership and passion will allow the
community here to flourish.
He said Conservative Judaism is
often misunderstood as not stand-
ing for anything, when it exemplifies
pluralism and an acknowledgment
of melding tradition with modern-
For now, the objective is to con-
tinue sending those positive mes-
sages and make strategic changes to
fulfill that vision.
"The mixture of tradition and
modernity is complex. It's not black
and white or even shades of gray; it's
multiple colors that flow in and out
of each other," he said. "To be plural-
istic means that we respect a process
that could lead to several conclu-
sions, and we are committed to wel-
coming everyone. This is not wishy-
washy— it's a real understanding of
the multiple layers of what it means
to live in a sacred world."
Jay Weiner, associate director of
the USCJ Midwest region, said there
are many different ways for congre-
gations to be involved in communi-
ties. In order for the USCJ to do its
best, it needs to work with syna-
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Judaism is where
Rabbi Steven Wernick,
executive VP and CEO,
United Synagogue of
gogues to fit individual needs.
"Congregations that have passion
and vision are successful," Weiner
said. "People need to realize that
there is passion in Conservative Ju-
daism and we need to recapture it.
Rabbi Wernick adds dedication to
the staff so we can make it the best
it can be."
Rabbi Adam Raskin, spiritual
leader of Congregation Beth Torah
in Richardson and president of the
Rabbinic Association of Greater
Dallas, said meeting with Wernick
was imperative to recognize what
services the USCJ provides and how
they benefit local congregations.
Raskin believes that Wernick
is committed to advancement and
"His vision helps lay leaders see
how their congregations can be more
effective," he said. "Rabbi Wernick
has fresh ideas and an inspiring ap-
proach to transform Conservative
Judaism. We all feel optimistic with
his leadership and ideas."
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Wisch, Rene. Texas Jewish Post (Fort Worth, Tex.), Vol. 64, No. 16, Ed. 1 Thursday, April 22, 2010, newspaper, April 22, 2010; Fort Worth, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth188289/m1/8/: accessed July 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .