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“How to be a Mentsch in an Economic Downturn –

The Legal, Ethical, Halachic and Practical Issues.” On Wednesday, March 18th, at the Israel Center for Conservative Judaism, located in Flushing, Queens, over 120 committed Lay Leaders, Education Directors, Youth Leaders and Rabbis attended this years METNY Spring Leadership Conference titled “METNY – Beyond the Horizon”. I was fortunate in being asked to facilitate a workshop titled “How to be a Mentsch in an Economic Downturn “– The Legal, Ethical, Halachic and Practical Issues. The workshop featured two outstanding presenters: Rabbi Paul Drazen, the director of the United Synagogue’s Program Development Department. In his current role, Rabbi Drazen, coordinates United Synagogue’s program service units [education, youth, and leadership development among them]. As well, Rabbi Drazen directs publishing Torah Sparks, the IMUN program and our Biennial Conventions. He provides consulting services and board and leadership training to USCJ member congregations. Rabbi Drazen has been active in areas including: religious broadcasting, hospital ethics and domestic violence prevention. He has served on the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and the staff of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. Ed Rudofsky, the Co-Chair of the METNY Law Committee and Chairman of the USCJ Committee on Congregational Standards, which oversees compliance with the United Synagogue Standards for Congregational Practice and dispute resolution between congregations, clergy and professional staff. Ed is member of the METNY and USCJ Boards; the author of "The Role of the Synagogue Board in the Employment of the Rabbi"; and a Past President of South Huntington Jewish Center, where he served on the Synagogue Board in various capacities for 19 years and recently helped to successfully guide the congregation through a severe financial crisis requiring cost-cutting and across-the-board payroll reductions. Rabbi Drazen opened with a presentation of some examples of halakhah (Jewish law) applicable to employment relationships, and discussed practical issues as how as Lay Leaders we conduct ourselves in regard to employees of our synagogues, from the Rabbi to the person responsible for maintaining your synagogue in a clean and neat manner. Ed Rudofsky talked about the importance of good (i.e., open; honest) communication with the employees of our Synagogues and schools, and in some cases their spouses (e.g., the Rebbitzin). We all need to remember that when we go home at night, our employment compensation affects our family and not just ourselves. Have we looked at creating an “economic emergency” budget, tried to increase fundraising, rent out space, run income producing programs and evaluate programs that create a loss for our Synagogues? Ed asked those gathered at this workshop to remember that our Synagogue role as a Leader is different that our 9-5 role. As Synagogue Leaders, we have an obligation to be understanding and compassionate; to educate; to communicate; and to develop alternate modes of operation that permit us to meet the goal of “saving everyone’s job” while insuring the survival of our congregations in this Economic Downturn.

B’Shalom. Jeffry H. Horowitz METNY Vice President

“How to be a Mentsch in an Economic Downturn” – The Legal, Ethical, Halachic and Practical Issues
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Communicate, communicate, communicate. • • • • With the Rabbi ... and the Rebbitzin! With the Hazzan and the entire professional staff. With the full Board. With the membership.

2.

Adopt an “economic emergency” budget
• • • • • • •

Increase fund-raising. Rent out space. Run income-producing programs. Increase dues / assess if feasible. Evaluate/reduce programs which are not “profit centers”. Eliminate all waste. Appoint an “accounts payable czar” to enforce “austerity”.

3.

As a last resort, if demonstrably necessary to pay the mortgage, “keep the lights and heat on,” maintain religious services and an alef-hei religious school, and provide a rabbi for the membership & community, reduce payroll, with the goal of “saving everyone’s job”. Master the minutiae of your budget and invite/be prepared to answer detailed questions. • Treat everyone fairly; don’t “balance the budget on the backs of the lowest paid people”. • Roll back recent raises if necessary to equalize treatment of clergy and staff. • Reduce rates of compensation across-the-board (including clergy). • Remember that only the congregation can change the Rabbi’s compensation; not the Board. • Adjust for Clergy depending on nature of compensation paid.

• Arrange private fund-raising to assist Rabbi and staff. • Offer non-cash benefits to compensate for payroll reductions. • Contract extension. • Vacation time.
4.

Be prepared for: • Unemployment insurance claims (by covered employees) • Job Eliminated. • Constructively Discharged. • Breach of contract claims. • Adopt Internal Grievance/Mediation/Arbitration procedures. • May not be binding if adopted mid-year. • Negotiate such provisions in all new contracts. • Negotiate contract re-openers in the event of further budget issues. • Reduced membership. • Reduced school enrollment. • Reduced income. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

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