Acing the Hayom Challenge: A Response to Rabbi Michael Siegel by Rabbi Steven Wernick

I read, with great interest, the conversation with Rabbi Michael Siegel assessing the response of United Synagogue to the Hayom challenge and the success of our Strategic Plan — V’asu Li Mikdash, which we implemented a little over a year ago.

As I am eager to see a miraculous transformation immediately, I was reminded of the extraordinary achievement we have attained in a short period of time. The interview reminded me of the seriousness with which we greeted Hayom’s demands, our sense that the task to transform ourselves was urgent…and long overdue.

Of all of the positive steps we have undertaken since the implementation of our Strategic Plan, I am most proud of the staff reinvigoration of United Synagogue. Walking through the halls of 820 and beyond, there is a new spirit of mission, inspiration and problem-solving, a united quest to usher our organization into its second century.

I wish to respond to Rabbi Siegel’s suggestion about igniting a Phase Two of Hayom by welcoming the same spirit of collaboration into our midst. We have proven to be good teammates already. Let us join forces again so that when we reach the shores of Rosh Hashana next year and gaze into the horizon of our Centennial Celebration, we have even more to be proud of.

Of all the important points made by Rabbi Siegel, the one that strikes me as the most compelling is his assertion that “one of the great challenges United Synagogue faces today is its image and credibility within the movement itself. “

As Rabbi Siegel says, “this issue, by the way, is not one which applies to the United Synagogue alone but is a movement-wide problem.”

He nails the problem squarely on the head by stating that members of the Conservative Jewish world have taken it as a “chiuv (obligation)” to internalize and perpetuate the “damaging, endless self criticism.”

In the spirit of Rosh Hashana, let us agree to stop spreading Lashon Hara about ourselves. Let us practice self-esteem. Let us review our recent achievements and give ourselves a well-deserved “yasher koach.” Moreover, let us rededicate ourselves to reversing the narrative of decline about Conservative Judaism and about ourselves.

As Rabbi Siegel says, “we have a responsibility not only to celebrate what we’re doing right but to build on those successes for the future.”

The future begins right now. The second century of United Synagogue is just around the corner.

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