United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
UNITED SYNAGOGUE OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM
UNITED SYNAGOGUE OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM (formerly United Synagogue of America ), association of Conservative synagogues in the United States and Canada. The United Synagogue of America was founded by Solomon *Schechter, president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, on February 23, 1913. The 22 synagogues that constituted the original membership of the organization had reached well over 700 congregations by 2006.
In creating the United Synagogue, Schechter hoped to tie together those congregations that supported the seminary's goal, to strengthen "historical Judaism" in North America. Although his dream of unifying the entire Jewish community did not materialize, Schechter's labors created a major instrumentality for preserving and fostering traditional Jewish religious life across the continent.
The United Synagogue has sought to provide its affiliated congregations with help in fulfilling their religious and educational responsibilities. The United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education has conducted many studies on the operation of congregational religious schools, which led eventually to the formulation of standards and curricula for Conservative schools. The commission has also produced hundreds of textbooks in Hebrew and English, school administration materials, and audio-visual aids. Since the late 1950s, it has spurred a system of Conservative day schools. Today, the Solomon Schechter Day School Association represents a network of more than 80 elementary and high schools.
Through the National Academy for Adult Jewish Studies, the United Synagogue has stimulated the development of adult education programs. To make prayer responsive to contemporary needs, the United Synagogue has published from time to time revised versions of the prayer book both for adults and children; its most recent is the revised Siddur Sim Shalom, which uses updated language and deals sensitively with issues of language and gender.
In 1952 the United Synagogue took an important step to raise standards of conduct for synagogues by adopting its "Guide to Standards for Congregational Life," and in 1959 the organization adopted the "Statement of Standards for Synagogue Practice," which became binding upon its affiliated congregations. In cooperation with the Rabbinical Assembly and the National Women's League, it also established the Commission on Social Action. The commission's purpose was to bring the wisdom of Judaism to bear on the burning social issues of the day.
Into the 21st century, United Synagogue's Social Action and Public Policy Committee still takes on that mandate; it also responds to emergencies with financial and other forms of help, and lobbies Congress to support issues of concern to the Jewish community.
In 2006 United Synagogue supported offices in 14 regions, which spanned the United States and Canada. Each region had an executive director and a network of regional officers, who met in regional councils and who were represented by their presidents on the national level. Presidents and past presidents share ideas and information with each other over the Presidents' List, a listserv run out of the national office. New leaders, on the congregational, regional, and international levels, are provided through retreat programs Sulam and Imun.
United Synagogue is particularly strong in informal education for teenagers and young adults, both in North America and in Israel. In North America, its network of United Synagogue Youth groups, for high-school students, covers the country, and often is the entry point to an independent Conservative Jewish life for teenagers. Kadimah, for middle-schoolers, is an active group that successfully feeds into usy; Koach, for college-students, operates on many campuses and holds regional gatherings for the Sabbath. On the other end of the life cycle, Hazak, provides classes, trips, discussion groups, and a range of other services for people 55 and older.
The United Synagogue of America has been committed to the cause of Israel and world Jewry generally since it was founded. As far back as 1926, it was instrumental in creating the Yeshurun Synagogue in Jerusalem as a gift to the Jews of what was then Palestine.
United Synagogue now has a six-building campus in Israel, the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The change of name is an indication of the reality that the organization stands for a movement and not for the entirety of the synagogues of America. The center houses the Conservative Yeshivah, an institution dedicated to high-level study for Jews who wish to take weeks, months, or even a year out of their lives to study for its own sake. It also provides headquarters for Nativ, the United Synagogue program for young adults who spend a year in Israel between high school and college, and often houses high-school students in Israel for usy's extremely successful Israel Pilgrimage trips.
[Alvin Kass /
Joanne Palmer (2nd ed.)]