Jewish Year in Review: 2009

Cutbacks, scandals, and hope.


Thinking about the past is something we Jews like to do. We devote the entire month of Elul, the last month of the Hebrew calendar year, to heshbon hanefesh–taking stock of our lives–and reflecting on the year gone by. But reconsidering the past can always be interesting and instructive. Why limit it to Elul?
2009 year in review
In December 2009, with the secular year coming to a close, as well as the culmination of the first decade of the 21st century, it seems a fitting time to engage in some collective heshbon hanefesh. As has been our tradition for the past four years, the editorial team at MyJewishLearning convened to review the most important Jewish stories of the outgoing year.

Here are the top headlines we chose (in no particular order).

No More Money

The ongoing global economic crisis forced Jewish organizations across the country to slash budgets and lay off staff. In January, Hadassah eliminated a quarter of its staff. The Jewish Federation system suffered in the spring, when large cities such as New York and Atlanta eliminated 11% and 19% of their staff respectively. Other important non-profits, such as the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education and the Professional Leaders Project, shut their doors altogether.

These discouraging economic times also brought about new thinking on efficiency. “Merger” was the buzzword of the year, as leaders of both the Reform and Conservative movements for the first time ever admitted publicly that they might be better off with fewer congregations. Numerous synagogues, as well as Jewish organizations (such as BBYO and Panim; Storahtelling and 14th Street Y of New York) successfully came together this year. JFL Media (one of MyJewishLearning’s original producers) spun off all its projects and shut its doors, in its own words “sunsetting” the organization so that it could best fulfill its mission.

The Federation system also rebounded in the latter half of the year. Jerry Silverman, previously head of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), was named the new CEO of the United Jewish Communities (UJC). Silverman, who transformed FJC by raising tens of millions of new money for summer camping, quickly worked to rebrand UJC into The Jewish Federations of North America. At the General Assembly held in November, many attendees reported a sense of invigoration and excitement around the new direction of the Federation system. But it remains to be seen if the new leadership can change the downward trend in giving. 

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