Hebrew Union College could face closure

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Monday, April 20, 2009

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"Tough economic times and multimillion-dollar debt might force Hebrew Union College, the nation’s oldest Jewish educational institution, to shut down its Clifton campus.
The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is facing an $8 million debt – in part because of flat fundraising, pension liabilities, and endowment and other revenue declines that have hit the institute harder than at any other time in its history, Rabbi David Ellenson, the college-institute’s president, told stakeholders in an e-mail.
'I wish with all my heart and soul that this were not so,” he wrote. “Yet, all the wishing in the world cannot alter the reality we face.'
HUC has raised the possibility of closing two of its three U.S. campuses. The others are in New York and Los Angeles.
Rabbi Gerry Walter, a 1974 graduate of the Clifton Avenue campus, said closing his alma mater would be a huge blow to American Jewry.
'This is the heart of Reform Judaism and we very much want to see it remain here,' said Walter, rabbi at Temple Sholom in Amberley Village.
Rabbi Isaac M. Wise founded the college in 1875, hoping to guarantee the survival of Judaism in America. The rabbinical school moved to its current campus in 1912, becoming an institution in Clifton.
The Klau Library and the American Jewish Archives – a massive collection of history that local supporters say is matched only by resources in Israel – hold a physical connection to Jewish history.
The Jacob Rader Marcus Center houses the archives, which boast more than 15 million documents on Jewish life. The nearby library holds hundreds of thousands of volumes. That collection includes everything from rare books and ancient scrolls to Bibles, cookbooks and Jewish songs.
'There’s no other place like it in the world,Ä said Brian Jaffee, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Cincinnati. 'There are books and other materials that were rescued from Nazi Europe. As someone who cares very much about our Jewish story, it’s impossible for me to imagine the library and archives not being here in Cincinnati.'
A group of faculty, alumni and other supporters of the Clifton campus are mobilizing an effort to keep the school open.
Leaders of the campus in Los Angeles are rallying to keep their branch afloat, too.
They argued, in a Los Angeles Times story, that the best arrangement would be to have campuses on each coast.
They pointed to an agreement with the University of Southern California that pays the institute $1.9 million to teach Jewish studies courses. They also alluded to the possibility of USC buying or leasing some of the institute’s property.
'I still think a presence in Los Angeles is essential to the survival and growth of the [Reform] movement in America because L.A. is the second-largest center of Jewish life demographically … and because it’s emerging as an important laboratory of Jewish innovation,' David N. Myers, head of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, told the Times.
Other reorganization efforts might allow more than one campus to remain open. A fourth campus in Jerusalem has not been mentioned in the potential closure talks.
The scenarios will be discussed in more detail when the Board of Governors meets next month in New York. A final decision will be made during a special June 23 board meeting.
Staff writer Eric Bradley contributed to this report." (via Cincinnati.com)


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