Jewish Journal

HUC-JIR’s School of Jewish Communal Service in crosshairs

by Brad A. Greenberg

Posted on Jun. 18, 2009 at 11:18 pm

The School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is on the chopping block.

When the four-campus university’s board of governors meet Tuesday, June 23, to close a $3 million budget deficit, they are expected to adopt a proposal that would suspend admissions to the School of Communal Service for the 2010-2011 school year. Critics fear the proposal, part of a deeper re-organization of the Reform movement’s university system, would inevitably lead to the permanent closure of the 40-year-old School of Communal Service, a jewel of the Los Angeles campus.

In an email to alumni, interim director Richard Siegel wrote that the move “is tantamount to closing the school.”

“And yet,” he continued:

1. “This has nothing to do with the fiscal crisis in which HUC finds itself.  In fact, the SJCS projects net operating revenues in the 2010-11 academic year. The Board of Governors is unaware of this.
2. “The SJCS is not taking any money from HUC’s General Scholarship Funds. All SJCS scholarships are covered by specific endowed or restricted funds. The SJCS is therefore no longer a drain on HUC’s General Scholarship Funds. The Board of Governors is unaware of this.
3. “The new strategic plan that was mandated by the Board of Governors has yet to be presented to the full board. They are unaware that the new strategic plan outlines a creative, entrepreneurial and financially sustainable program for the future. (In particular, the plan includes new programs for the professional development of Reform rabbis and executive directors of Reform synagogues in the areas of or ganizational management, fundraising, and professional leadership.)”

Siegel encouraged alumni to directly petition members of the board of governors to support an amendment to the resolution that would keep the school open.

Reached by The Journal, Siegel declined to comment further, citing a university policy that all communication with media come from headquarters in New York. HUC-JIR President David Ellenson and spokeswoman Jeanie Rosensaft did not return calls for comment.

Stanley Gold, a member of the HUC-JIR board and chairman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said he plans to vote against the proposed suspension of the school.

“I think it is extreme shortsightedness, inserted there by people who don’t understand the importance of the School of Communal Service,” he said. “It hurts the college institution, the Southern California Jewish population and the LA campus.”

Gold, a former Disney board member who also sits on the board of USC, added: “I don’t think that the resolution addresses the systemic problems that the college institution faces. It’s not really a plan. It’s a wish list and hopes, not a strategy.”

The school is a rare resource for the Jewish communal world and has trained 650 Jewish professionals since its inception, with alumni spread across Los Angeles and the country. A nondenominational program that educates Orthodox and Conservative Jews alongside members of the Reform movement, the school’s closure would not go unnoticed.

“It would mean the deprivation of an important source of Jewish communal workers,” said Gerald Bubis, the school’s founding director and now professor emeritus. “They are a spine in this town, in almost every setting you can think of, from the Home [for the Aging] to Jewish Family Service to the Federation. You just go through and it’s almost impossible to name an organization where there isn’t someone there, or hasn’t been someone there, who came through the school.”

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