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(RNS) As a coalition of nearly 60 clergy and lay leaders demands a new strategic plan and greater transparency from Conservative Judaism, the movement’s synagogue arm has tapped a new leader who hopes to fulfill some of those goals.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has named Rabbi Steven Wernick of suburban Philadelphia’s Temple Adath Israel to become its executive vice president, succeeding Rabbi Jerome Epstein, who retired after 20 years in the position.
During Epstein’s tenure, the Conservative movement, which claimed the largest percentage of American Jews for decades, fell behind the Reform branch. The 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey reported that 33 percent of Jews who belong to synagogues identified as Conservative, a drop from 43 percent in the previous decade; Reform and Orthodox affiliations rose during that period.
Wernick, 41, who grew up in the Conservative movement and was ordained by its flagship institution, The Jewish Theological Seminary, oversaw the merger of his congregation with a smaller one and helped its youth group win several awards — experiences that can help him lead such efforts on a large scale, United Synagogue officials said.
“The optimism and energy he exudes is both engaging and contagious,”
said Judy Yudoff, a past president of the group. “I believe that with him we will move forward, and we will all share and grow in both our courage and our wisdom.”
The announcement comes a week after United Synagogue officials received a critical letter from 58 rabbis, cantors and lay leaders, calling themselves “HaYom: Coalition for the Transformation of Conservative Judaism,” requesting a meeting to discuss strategies for renewing the movement.
If Wernick accepts the position, his appointment will be the latest in a series of leadership changes at the movement’s main institutions.
Arnold Eisen was installed as The Jewish Theological Seminary’s chancellor in 2007. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld will become the first female chief executive of the Rabbinical Assembly, the group’s clergy association, in July.
By Nicole Neroulias
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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