When Rabbi Steven Lindemann, the Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill installed Rabbi Steven Wernick as the new CEO and executive vice president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism at that organization’s international biennial convention which took place in Cherry Hill, he listed many of Rabbi Wernick’s achievements.
Rabbi Lindemann started with Rabbi Wernick’s accomplishments when he started at TBS as the high school principal and youth director, and as a rabbinic intern – a post which evolved into the position of associate rabbi.
During his seven years at TBS, Rabbi Wernick took the synagogue’s USY youth group through a succession of awards to become best chapter in the region; he went to Camp Ramah in the summers and helped increase the synagogue’s enrollment of campers and staff; he was part of the education team that led Temple Beth Shalom’s school to become one of the first in the country to receive the Framework of Excellence designation from USCJ, and increased the number of students continuing from Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah through Confirmation to 86%.
Rabbi Lindemann proceeded delineating Rabbi Wernick’s accomplishments once he continued his career to become the Senior Rabbi at Adath Israel in Merion Station with more successes. Adath Israel’s USY became best chapter in the region, their Ramah and school enrollment increased, they developed new programs in adult education. Rabbi Wernick helped negotiate the merger of another congregation into theirs and worked with the Jewish Federation to create a Lower Merion Kehillah of congregations joining together for community programs. He became the president of the Regional Rabbinical Assembly and brought USCJ, Mens’ Clubs, Sisterhood, and the entire Conservative Community together for an extraordinary, innovative educational program built around the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute. He worked with the Jewish Outreach Partnership to create a Young Leadership Training program for synagogues. In short, he became a team leader and builder whose inclusive leadership style brought the community together and whose enthusiastic passion for Judaism engaged adults and youth alike.
When Rabbi Wernick called to inform Rabbi Lindemann that he was considering applying for the position of Executive VP and CEO of the USCJ, Rabbi Lindemann asked: “Why?”
Wernick’s response was quick and clear: “Because I think I can make a difference; it is a chance to make the Conservative Movement stronger.”
This is the future of Conservative Judaism and we are already seeing the results.
What Rabbi Steven Wernick accomplished in his previous two positions, he is now accomplishing on an international level.
Wernick is only one of the Conservative Movement’s new young dynamic leaders who has taken up national leadership positions as the next generation of the Conservative Movement is taking shape.
One of the main event’s of the USCJ’s Biennial Convention was the President’s Panel entitled “Into the Future” during which the new generation of leadership discussed their vision of the future of the Conservative Movement. the speakers included Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Vice President and Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly; Hazzan Stephen J. Stein, the Executive Vice President of the Cantors Assembly; and Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO and Executive Vice President of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism.
In the new spirit of leadership, the panel demonstrated inclusiveness, a shared vision and a good sense of humor. Their personal passion and camaraderie could not help but be felt by everyone in the room.
The discussion included questions and answers not only from the audience, but also from representatives of USCJ’s KOACH College outreach program from college campuses who joined the conference through Internet video conferencing. The achievements of which Rabbi Lindemann spoke were evident as three of the college representatives had been congregants of Rabbi Wernick at Adath Israel.
The panel participants personify the future of Conservative Judaism. They called on each Conservative Jew to act individually in order to reinvigorate Conservative Judaism and to be engaged in what Rabbi Wernick coined “sacred living.” Wernick told his audience “to busy yourself in Torah” – “La’asok b’Torah” saying that this must be in the center of our lives and “we need to put that as our motto.”
Rabbi Schonfeld called upon the audience to live with the basic principles of ethical mitzvot, not just rituals and learning Torah.
Each speaker seemed to call upon people to reexamine what Judaism meant to them in a personal context and to revitalize Judaism within themselves. They sent the clear message that by doing so, the Conservative Movement, Judaism, humanity and all of God’s creation would benefit.
This new spirit is emanating from a new leadership which Rabbi Schonfeld characterized as processing “courageous boldness” changing old models and building new coalitions. Rabbi Shavit Artson told listeners that there is more conversation among leadership than people realize, emphasizing the relationships which he and his colleagues share in informal frequent contacts with each other.
Rabbi Shavit Artson challenged the audience of lay and professional leaders saying that if we are able to act so that we are focused on the best way to serve God and not on what is the best way to serve institutions, we will be able to move ahead.
Moving ahead to the future these leaders envision is to be less divisive and more inclusive. They seek to provide a new definition of what a denomination is, reflecting each person’s own path which the panelists commented is not about left, right and center, but about transcending oneself and connecting to higher ideals.
As Rabbi Schonfeld put it, “exciting changes are happening in the Conservative Movement.” And this leadership is encouraging everyone to be a part of it.
The panel was recorded and may be viewed in its entirety online at www.uscj.org/biennial/panel.html. Additionally, Rabbi Steven Wernick’s Address to USCJ Biennial Convention is available at uscj.org/Rabbi_Steven_Wernick8230.html.