The Reform Jewish movement’s central seminary is considering closing two of its three U.S. campuses amid what the school’s president calls “the most challenging financial position (the school) has faced in its history.”
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, with campuses in New York, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Jerusalem, is facing a deficit of about $8 million in the next two years, said seminary president Rabbi David Ellenson.
Ellenson said some endowment funds are “under water” and not generating any income, and the Reform movement’s decision to cut synagogue dues by 20 percent will mean a loss of as much as $3 million next year and beyond.
“Unless conditions improve quickly and significantly, the projections for the next several years could be even worse,” Ellenson wrote in a March 19 letter to supporters. “We cannot sustain such losses and survive.”
One proposal that will be presented to the seminary’s Board of Governors May 3-4 would close two of the U.S. campuses, although Ellenson stressed no decision has been made on which ones. A final decision is expected by June 23.
Ellenson has already cut his salary 10 percent, trimmed staff salaries 5 percent, and raised annual tuition by $3,000, to $19,000.
Those and other steps will trim $5.8 million from the seminary’s 2009-2010 budget, he said.
Seminary spokeswoman Jeanie Rosensaft said the school did not have investments with convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, whose bad investments have devastated Jewish charities, although she said some donors may have lost money to Madoff.
According to the New York Jewish Week, the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary in New York will cut its faculty by 15 percent later this year, and the Orthodox Yeshiva University is trying to cut its budget by $28 million.
By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service
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