In September, I announced that I was officially a Reform Jew with no movement. Henceforth, I proclaimed that I would be a Reform Jew, but not a member of the Reform movement. I eventually worked on some definitions, to make this all a bit clearer. The impetus for this, the last straw really, was the shortsighted decision of the Union for Reform Judaism to end all funding for college programming, effectively killing Kesher. A new poll from one college student is asking why and what we can do to rebuild.
Kesher, the URJ’s already impotent, underfunded, understaffed answer to Koach and Chabad had all of its funding pulled last summer when the URJ realized it was up a financial creek. A few months prior, I had been at the pitifully attended annual Kesher Convention in Montreal. Here’s some of what I wrote about that event:
…I attended Kesher’s final LTS. Manned at the time by a single URJ employee and a confused, under-advised student board, Kesher was clearly struggling to figure out what it was.
The tiny event, held at McGill Hillel in Montreal, was attended by only 30-some-odd Reform college students. Social inbreeding was rampant. There were only six or seven people I didn’t already know. Four or five of them I had heard of or were very close friends of my close friends.
We spent the final full day of the long weekend spring break event crammed into one little room re-imagining Kesher. Mostly we yelled and got frustrated with each other. I was at times entertained and annoyed. Was this the support, the organization that the URJ wanted us to use to maintain Reform lives on college campuses across America?
I can’t recall what the outcome of that weekend was. Months later, the URJ re-organized. The college department disappeared. Kesher exists now only college campuses where Reform students meet under the Kesher name. It is an unfunded embarrassment to the Reform movement. We don’t generate income through synagogue dues, so the URJ has abandoned us.
I guess that’s a pretty serious charge in that last paragraph about synagogue dues, but I think it remains true. The URJ, despite being an allegedly benevolent non-profit entity, is run with the bottom line at the forefront. Which is not to say that it’s bad for a non-profit to be financially pragmatic. It is to say that, when we’re in high school, we generate all kinds of income for the URJ if we’re involved. If our parents are synagogue members, they’re paying the URJ for us. If we’re members of NFTY, we–or, more likely, our parents–are paying to for us there. We go on NFTY Summer in Israel trips that cost plenty. In short, we generate revenue.
In college, we don’t. And, far from our parents, they don’t see our lack of involvement. Not seeing that the URJ isn’t doing anything for us, our parents to yank their money from the URJ.
The economy was bad. The URJ reacted, rightly so, by restructuring. Part of that restructuring was canceling all funding to my religiously vulnerable demographic. It’s as simple as that. If the URJ is wondering where we go after college, why we don’t join their synagogues when we graduate, among the many valid answers they will find, they’ll find that they let us know in no uncertain terms that they didn’t care about us in college.
David Bloom, an old NFTY friend of mine is wondering why and what to do. I got this email from him today:
As you might have heard, the poor economy recently forced the Union for Reform Judaism to cut all funding for KESHER, the campus program of the URJ. As of now, the organization has ceased to exist as a North American body although many universities and colleges have groups of Reform Jewish students.
Earlier in the year, I came up with an idea: with the help of many past NFTYites, together, I thing we can reinvigorate the KESHER program.
Every senior at my school gets one week to pursue an interest of theirs. This week, I am taking a look at KESHER. Below, there is a hyperlink to a survey, containing questions for Reform Jews at universities and colleges. If you could please fill out the survey and forward it to ten other Reform college students or entering freshman, I would greatly appreciate it. Furthermore, if you are interested in helping out, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can take David’s poll here.
There was an attempt last year to revive Kesher from the bottom up. The last student leader of Kesher, Aaron Cravez, organized a constitutional convention at Indiana University. Last I heard, it hadn’t gone anywhere. So we’ll see if this goes somewhere.