Recon Groups Draw a Bit Closer to a Merger

The Jenkintown-based Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the movement's congregational arm has moved one step closer to merging with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote.

Proponents have said that a unified group could better serve synagogues and promote awareness of a distinct brand of Judaism. And the hope is that a restructuring would cut costs.

At the JRF national convention last week in Newport Beach, Calif., representatives of congregations from across the country overwhelmingly approved the merger talks.

According to JRF president Robert Barkin, the two sides have until April to hammer out details and come up with a formal merger document, which Reconstructionist congregations would then adopt or reject.

RRC president Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz lauded the vote.

The movement's other major arm, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, would not be part of the new organization.

According to the 2009 "Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia," 3 percent of the region's Jews identify as Reconstructionist.

These efforts at a merger come on the heels of major overhauls within the Reform and Conservative movements aimed at cutting costs and more efficiently serving congregations.

It's been a particularly turbulent time at JRF, which has experienced layoffs and staff turnover within the past two years. Executive vice president Carl Sheingold, JRF's top professional, left his post in August, several months before his contract was set to expire. Barkin, the lay leader, has taken over on an interim basis.

And the college entered this year with a projected $450,000 budget deficit, though officials downplayed its seriousness.

Janet Karp, president of Or Hadash: A Reconstructionist Congregation in Fort Washington, said her board backed the measure. She stated that the two organizations have little choice but to merge if they want to survive.

More than anything, what she wants to see from a stronger organization is an increased effort to spread awareness of the Reconstructionist brand.

While there are no immediate plans to change the movement's label, there needs to be a better understanding of the ideology and history, if Jews are going to seek out Reconstructionist congregations, she said.

"If JRF could meet that need and accomplish that goal," said Karp, "they would be far ahead of where were they are now."



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