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American Jewish youth movement Young Judaea and its long-running sponsor, Hadassah Women's Organization, suffered another blow Wednesday following the resignation of key staff member, YJ/FZY Year Course Director Keith Berman.
Berman's decision to leave Young Judaea after more than 20 years with the movement closely follows the resignation of its director, Rabbi Ramie Arian, who is scheduled to step down in the coming weeks. It also comes after a slew of staff firings in Israel and cutbacks to key aspects of the Year Course program. Over the past year, Young Judaea has also seen its funding from Hadassah slashed as the woman's organization reports undergoing a process of refocusing its resources and restructuring.
While none of the movement's staff members were legally able to comment to The Jerusalem Post Wednesday, it was suggested that Berman's decision to leave Young Judaea is based on a growing dissatisfaction over cutbacks imposed on the Year Course program specifically and the general direction the youth movement is headed.
Former Young Judaean Danny Reed, who has been following the movement's developments via his blog, Between Babylon and Jerusalem, ran a headline reading "Young Judaea Loses One of Its Best" on Berman's decision to leave.
"It is also a painful reminder of how far the movement has fallen in the last few years," wrote Reed, who worked for the movement in the US for a number of years. "Those of us who were involved in Young Judaea remember it as a Zionist youth movement, instilling in all of us a love of Israel and a sense of K'lal Yisrael. Sadly, today Young Judaea is a shell of its former self. The 'movement,' all but nonexistent, is a victim of the changing times, the decline of idealism and Hadassah's neglect."
Over the past year, since the onset of the global economic crisis and the revelation that Hadassah lost millions in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi investment scheme, it has become increasingly clear that both the women's organization and Young Judaea are struggling financially.
In attempts to restructure and downsize its various projects, Hadassah this year sold off its multi-million dollar Young Judaea Youth Hostel complex in Jerusalem for an estimated $15 million, as well as closing the doors on Merkaz Hamagshimim - a residential community center for young US immigrants in the capital's Baka neighborhood - late last month.
In the US, shrinking resources have also forced the youth movement to scale back on its regional gatherings for members and even close down one of its West Coast summer camps. These camps are a mainstay of the 100-year-old movement.
Intense discussions have been held in recent months by Hadassah executives to partner with the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America in a bid to save the movement, because Hadassah can no longer shoulder the financial burden alone, said sources.
Hadassah representatives did not directly deny that claim Wednesday, telling the Post, "Hadassah has in the past, and continues all the time, to seek out strategic alliances in order to increase participation in Young Judaea programs in the US and in Israel."
In a written statement to the Post, the organization maintained that it was committed to Young Judaea Zionist youth as an "integral part of Hadassah's mission and ideology."
"Hadassah regrets the resignation of both Rabbi Arian and Keith Berman," the statement said. "However, their decision to leave Young Judaea will have no impact on the future of the movement. Young Judaea's Year Course is the flagship gap year program in Israel. We take great pride in the fact that is has grown into a program with hundreds of participants annually. Hadassah remains committed to Young Judaea.
It continued: "We have worked to achieve greater efficiencies throughout Hadassah, both in Israel and across the United States. At the same time we continue to work to find ways to strengthen our Young Judaea programs."