College students unite to save conservative youth program

A Conservative movement college outreach program has survived potential demise — for now. Responding to an organized outcry by students and alumni, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) voted on June 10 to fund KOACH, its campus program, with $100,000 for the coming year on the condition that KOACH raises an additional $130,000.

Leaders of KOACH say the group provides a unique campus outlet for progressive Jewish students. In addition to internships, programming grants and Web resources, the group’s flagship program is an annual national conference known as the Kallah.

UC Riverside graduate Rebecca Marcus calls Kallah “a truly magical weekend” of “learning and nurturing, growth, development.” This year’s Kallah was sponsored by the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

For many students, KOACH is the natural continuation of a lifelong involvement in Conservative youth programming. “I grew up in the Conservative Movement — I did USY, I went on Nativ — and KOACH is the next step in continuing my Conservative way of life,” said Angeleno Robyn Klitsky, a student at Boston University.

But over the past seven years, KOACH has experienced a series of progressive budget cuts as a result of the financial crisis racking USCJ. This spring, the movement said it would impose a hiatus on funding the program.

At its height just seven years ago, KOACH had a budget of $750,000, reached 88 campuses and impacted a number of Southern California universities, including USC, UCLA, CSUN, Pierce and Valley community colleges, San Diego State University and University of Redlands. Cuts forced KOACH to shrink Kallah and completely eliminate programs like KOACH Shabbat, which sent rabbinical interns with educational material to campuses throughout North America.

When USCJ threatened to stop funding KOACH, concerned students took action. On March 31, Douglas Kandl, an entering junior at NYC’s Pace University and president of Pace Hillel, created

Richard Skolnik, international president of USCJ, acknowledges that it was the students’ energetic response that spared
KOACH: “I felt that there was so much passion — how could we let them down?”

Kandl remains optimistic.

“Now we have a specific goal to work toward,” Kandl said. “With all the support that we’ve gotten … I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to reach that goal.”

“We are going to try to help them,” Skolnik said. “One of the plans is to put together a consortium of other arms in the movement and see what we can do to help save our Jewish college students.”

United Synagogue’s Koach campus program gets a reprieve

The Conservative movement has reduced funding for its college campus organization, and expects Koach supporters to come up with the remaining requested money, according to United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism’s executive vice president.

In its board meeting in Detroit on Sunday, USCJ voted to provide Koach with $100,000 for fiscal year 2013, beginning July 1, provided that the campus group’s supporters come up with an additional $130,000 by the end of December, Rabbi Steven Wernick told JTA.

The board also will work to develop a three- to five-year business plan for the organization, Wernick said. He called the program, which serves some 25 campuses and 3,000 students, a “high-impact program with minimal participation.”

The United Synagogue outlay is enough to fund the campus group until the end of December, he said.

“If they don’t raise the funds by then, they don’t have the resources to be able to continue it,” Wernick said.

Reports last week that United Synagogue might cut funding altogether led to the creation of, a petition to rescue the campus group.

The Women’s League of Conservative Judaism came to Koach’s rescue earlier this year when it raised about $35,000 in a “last-minute” campaign to save February’s Koach kallah, its annual conference, The Jewish Standard reported.

“We have continued to raise funds,” Rhonda Jacobs Kahn, Women’s League communications director, told JTA.

Rabbi Ari Israel, the Hillel director at the University of Maryland at College Park, called the decision “a step in the right direction.”

“We need to have ideologically based interests for those kids looking for it,” he said.