CRC considers leaving URJ


Central Reform Congregation has begun discussions over whether or not to retain its membership in the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ).

“Central Reform Congregation has a long-standing relationship with the Union for Reform Judaism and great respect for the many programs and services of the URJ,” the congregation said in a statement released this week. “As a young and evolving congregation, we are engaged in an internal decision about whether continued membership in the URJ, and the associated financial cost, is right for CRC at this time.”

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The statement noted that congregants can explore the issue further and speak with representatives of the URJ during a meeting set to discuss the issue June 22. The event will be “followed by a conversation within the CRC community about our ongoing relationship with the URJ.”

“Our conversation on June 22 is consistent with our core values of working together to determine the best path for our holy community and allowing all members of our community to actively participate in making critical decisions,” the statement said.

Jennifer Bersdale, director of advocacy and communications for the temple, said that it was not yet determined whether the decision would be made on the basis of a formal congregational vote. A decision-making process would likely be determined at the July board meeting. Temple leaders will use this week’s meeting to gain ideas for such a process, she said.

“It will be a congregational decision,” Bersdale said. “In order to honor our process of hearing from our members, our board has held off on designing the final part of the process until after we have a chance to get input from our members at this meeting.”

The congregation’s May temple bulletin also mentioned the URJ issue noting that “the largest part” of the April Annual Meeting was centered on the topic.

“CRC has been a member of the URJ since we were founded, and our membership supports programs such as youth groups, camps, Hebrew Union College (where both of our rabbis were ordained) and progressive Jewish advocacy around the world,” the bulletin said. “However, in recent years, our membership dues have significantly increased, adding to the strain on CRC’s budget.”

Neither Bersdale nor Rabbi Lane Steinger, director of the Midwest Council of the URJ, would comment on the exact amount of CRC’s dues to the organization. The URJ charges dues proportionally based on a number of factors for each temple.

Steinger confirmed that he would be one of two of the organization’s representatives present at the upcoming meeting.

“We’ll be there basically to be helpful to the folks that are there and answer the questions that they have,” Steinger said.

He said that the URJ considers all member congregations are “precious and sacred” and that the group has always had a good relationship with CRC.

“It’s been rewarding for us. I hope it’s been rewarding for the congregation as well,” he said. “Central Reform is a wonderful congregation. We hope that it continues to be an extraordinary and strong congregation and continues to be a member of the union.”

Steinger said that while some regions of the URJ have shrunk and others have grown the Midwest Council, which covers all or part of 12 states, has seen membership stay “pretty stable.” Nationally, he said the numbers have gotten bigger.

“It hasn’t been an explosive increase but it’s been a nice, steady incremental increase,” Steinger said. “When you take into account all the demographic factors, it’s been a very positive trend, an upward trend.”

Bersdale said that no decisions have been made about whether or not CRC would remain a part of the Reform Movement should it withdraw from URJ.

“We have not discussed any of those possibilities,” she said. “At this point we are really just looking at our affiliation with the URJ.”

Steinger said that some congregations do choose to be a part of the movement without URJ membership.

“I would guess it is no more than a handful but I don’t have hard numbers,” he said. “It’s phenomenon that’s not unknown but it is relatively rare.”

The URJ was founded in 1873 with 34 congregations as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC). The UAHC changed its name in 2003. Today it claims more than 1.5 million Reform Jews in 900 congregations including eight in the St. Louis area. In addition to CRC, Temple Emanuel, B’nai Torah, B’nai El, Kol Am, Temple Israel, Congregation Shaare Emeth and United Hebrew Congregation are members.