Masorati cash crisis still a 'threat to our existence'

New Masorti movement head warns: The future of the movement depends on building a presence all over Israel.

May 27, 2007 01:05
2 minute read.
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The future of pluralistic Judaism in Israel will be compromised unless the Conservative movement in the US increases its financial support to the Masorti movement, Yizhar Hess, new executive director of the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel, said over the weekend. The Masorti movement's annual budget is $2.5 million to $3m., with about a quarter provided by the Jewish Agency. A medium-sized Conservative synagogue in the US has an equivalent budget. The Masorti movement in Israel provides 50 percent of the salaries for rabbis of 50 Masorti communities. Of these rabbis, only 13 get a full-time gross salary of NIS 12,000 a month. The rest receive part-time salaries. "The future of the movement depends on building a presence all over Israel," said Hess. "We need to invest in communities, because that is the investment with the highest spiritual yield." In his fund-raising campaign, the Masorti movement's Hess is in direct competition with two other Conservative-affiliated organizations in Israel: the Tali School System and the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. While the Masorti movement's main objective is to build Conservative communities, TALI and Schechter try to influence Israeli society through formal educational systems. "If I had more money I could not only upgrade the existing communities but also double the total number of communities," said Hess. "For instance, I'd like to send Masorti rabbi-emissaries to different places around Israel to create new communities. The US Conservative movement can have a huge impact on Israeli society with a minimal investment." Budgetary problems are not new to the movement. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post at the end of 2004, Rabbi Ehud Bandel, former head of the Masorti movement who was fired along with others in 2005 due to severe budgetary problems, lamented that his annual budget was just $2.4m., slightly less than the present budget. For the last two years the Masorti movement functioned without an official administrative head. A serious revamping of the Masorti Foundation, a fund-raising arm based in New York, combined with an increase in donations from abroad during and after the Second Lebanon War, made possible the appointment of Hess and other organizational changes in the movement. Rabbi Uri Ayalon, head of Congregation Yotzer Or in Talpiot, a working class neighborhood in Jerusalem, said he was financially strapped. "We employ professionals and experts for the various projects we offer our community," said Ayalon. "I could do a lot more if I had more money." Ayalon did not want to reveal the size of his annual budget, but said that it was less than $100,000. Ayalon said that if local rabbis were to present more creative and diverse community projects, Conservative Jews in the US would be more interested in donating. "I am willing to accept responsibility for the budgetary problems," said Ayalon.

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