Cross-posted to Jewschool.
Curious to hear an insider perspective on the Union for Reform Judaism‘s new resturcture, I got in touch with a friend on the URJ Board of Trustees. He sent me the following in his e-mail response.
The Union is required by its constitution to operate on a balanced budget, and given current income projections, downsizing was a mandatory, not an option. But even if the dollars were flowing in, we have been delivering service to our constituencies on mid-20th-century models.
The Board meeting yesterday at which the restructuring was approved was the first salvo in the new era — I was one of some 4 dozen Board members who participated without being in Jersey City, where the corporeal meeting took place. The missing piece of the virtual Board meeting was webcams, but that will come — not only to URJ Board meetings, but to serving congregations.
If the folks in Austin need a consultation on, say a worship issue, a worship specialist can meet with the Board in a matter of days by webinar/conferenvce call. There will be more specialists, less bureaucracy, faster and more expert service. [emphasis mine]
I had assumed that the restructure was a knee-jerk reaction to new money troubles. According to another source, MUM dues (the annual dues paid by URJ member communities) are down 20% this year. Some congregations in the Union are hurting so bad for money that they may have to pull out of the Union because they can’t afford their MUM dues.
But this trustee seems to suggest that the restructure has been in the works for a long while. I’m skeptical about the closing of all but four super-regional offices (Atlanta, Chicago, LA, and NYC). It seems benficial to have the small regional offices where, as Cheers says, “Everybody knows your name.” What are the chances that the head of a super-region based in Atlanta will know the name of the Reform Rabbi in Plano, Texas, a suburb in North Dallas?
However, as this trustee points out, there will be better use of techonology to fill in the personnel gaps. That sounds good, right?
He goes on:
On my list of Words I Live By, one favorite maxim is that the only person who enjoys change is a wet baby. The URJ Board was somewhat resistant to the inevitability of progress as long as the diaper was dry. I suspect that at least a dozen of my friends will get laid off this week. It appears, by the way, that NFTY and the camp system will be least affected. But aside from the human turmoil, I think this will be good for the Jews.
I suspect that many people I know will get laid of this week as well. The youth division, with it’s well-funded camps and high school programs and under-funded college departement will remain mostly unaffected. The youth division is the URJ’s sacred cow, after all.
I fear, however, that with this loss of regional personnel, we will lose some of the personability. But that is always the fear when we replace people with technology, I suppose. And as a big proponent of things like blogs and video and terms like New Media, I should probably sit down and shut up and just be glad that the Union even has a blog!
But yes, trusted trustee, as you say, I think this will be good for the Jews.
More on Wednesday, as we hear about the coming layoffs, I suppose.