The Situation

The Hebrew Union College was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1875, making it the oldest Jewish educational institution in the United States.  While it has now expanded to New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem, the Cincinnati is the only institution of its kind servicing the entire Midwest, and large parts of the South.

Due to recent financial struggles, HUC is considering closing the Cincinnati campus.  This would be a tragedy for Cincinnati, HUC, and the entirety of Midwest Jewry.

But the decision has not yet been finalized. You can have your voice heard. The board of governors meets in New York on May 3/4; and on June 23, the board will vote on a restructuring plan.

How can you help? You can express your opinions to President Ellenson or to the chair of the board of governors: Barbara Friedman

Please write letters to the editor of local newspapers.  If you are comfortable letting the world know how you feel, BCC your email to and we’ll post it on this site.  Leave a comment below and join the conversation

Learn about supporting HUC financially  Or if you are able, donate now  (be sure to specify where you want the money to go)

This story in:  The Cincinnati Enquirer  and again 4/21

The Jewish Week, The LA Times, The Jerusalem Post, The AP

35 Responses to The Situation

  1. Emmet kol says:

    Thanks for doing this. May you succeed.
    Hazak hazak v’nithazek.

  2. Leah says:

    The Hebrew Union College campus in Cincinnati not only serves the students, faculty, staff and community of Cincinnati – but Jews throughout the south, midwest and west through the student pulpit program. Closing the Cincinnati campus in order to have presence of a campus in New York which is too small for its current faculty and staff is a disservice to the Jewish people throughout this great country.

  3. Elliot says:

    Best of luck. This is an institution the Midwest Jewish community cannot lose, and those of us outside of the Midwest that support the HUC will be watching closely.

  4. SallyZ says:

    What about that big important library and the archive stuff on the campus. Isn’t the library the largest in the world? Except for in Israel?

  5. Annea says:

    Yes, the library is the second largest Judaica collection in the world. To sell of parts of the collection is a crime against the Jewish people. Supposedly worse enemies burned Jewish books. And the sale of the library’s rare books is still on the table.

  6. TomK says:

    well..what can we do? are there a lot of people who know about this website? how do we get the newspapers to see what’s being written here? to see what the real story behind the scenes is?

  7. Save HUC says:

    There is a lot that can be done. Speak to your local rabbis and let them know how you feel about this. Write letters to the editor of your local paper, as well as papers in the cities in which HUC has campuses.

    Email Rabbi Ellenson and Barbara Friedman and explain to them your position.

    Ultimately, this is a financial issue, despite the political shading that it has taken on and because it is a financial issue, the ideal solution is one in which the necessary funds are raised to eliminate the threat of a campus closure.

  8. Annea says:

    You can forward this web site to people who share your concerns. Have them write to Barbara Friedman and David Ellenson. If the issue is fiscal responsibility, it’s being ignored in favor of regional preference. That’s understandable–no one wants to move. But if fiscal responsibility is key, staying in Manhattan isn’t the way to demonstrate that.

  9. Ari says:

    If it were not for the Cincinnati campus, I can honestly say that I would not be a rabbi today. I could not have afforded to move my family to NY or LA. I am afraid that the Cincinnati campus is the only affordable option for some of the Reform Movement’s finest future rabbis.

  10. april says:

    is this really just about the financial issues facing HUC? I mean it’s obvious that CN is the best financial solution for both HUC and students. Is there more to this?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Please be sure that if you make a donation, that you specify that it is restricted to the Cincinnati campus only. Otherwise, it will go to the New York office. Thanks.

  12. Irwin Zeplowitz says:

    Dear friends,

    You should be aware that there are 11 alumni who sit on the Board of Governors of HUC-JIR (out of some five dozen Board members in total). Most are rabbis, but there are representatives of other programs, a reflection of a decision several years ago to broaden the base of representation. While we alumni are not a “block”, but individuals with different understandings of what is best for the College-Institute, we are all committed to the continuity and growth of the institution. I am not writing on behalf of the Board, but only personally in response to this website and some of the posts on it.

    I have also received emails from a number of alumni about the cutbacks which have already taken place at HUC – and the more drastic ones that are coming. There have been a number of rumors and unfounded statements about the upcoming Board of Governors meeting in early May – and the decisions that will be made about the future of HUC-JIR.

    Please understand that even we who sit on the Board await the various proposals we will be asked to consider about how to move forward. Many weeks ago we were told that we should expect to receive these only at the end of April. Why with so little time before the meeting? The decision of the URJ to decrease MUM dues only came in early March – and was as much a surprise to HUC as it was to anyone. Even before March a number of cutbacks had taken place, with the hope that the institution as we know it now, could be maintained for a period of time. That all changed in early March (for reasons aware to most who are likely to visit this site). With such a short window key HUC Board members have been developing various scenarios which will be discussed at our May 4 meeting. However, NO decisions will be made until a special session of the Board on June 23. Most importantly, there has been NO discussion about whether to definitely close one campus, two or develop some alternate plan. By arguing for one campus or another before or without getting the facts is, it seems to me, inflaming passions over what is already a difficult issue.

    Every single member of the Board, who has worked for years to expand the reach of HUC-JIR, is upset by what lies ahead. More than that, David Ellenson has been very clear that financial considerations alone should not be the sole motivating factors as we make our decisions. Speaking personally, HUC-JIR is greater than any or even all of its campuses. Like any Jewish institution, it is the students and teachers who we must primarily support and protect.

    All this being said, the possibility of three campuses in the United States being run as they are now is financially unsustainable. The yearly budget of HUC is less than $40 million … and the projected deficit for the next two years if we do nothing is approximately $10 million annually. No institution or organization can maintain itself in such an unfavorable financial environment.

    HUC must and will survive, but to do so some radical decisions will likely have to be made. I agree that the decision-making process should be as transparent as possible AND that we should try to avoid any choices during this recession we may come to regret later. I will do all I can to encourage the Board of Governors to ensure that as much information as possible about the decision-making process be shared with all the alumni of HUC-JIR, as well as those directly affected. That being said, I cannot in good conscience hope for a sunnier day and allow that “hope” to avoid necessary decisions that will prevent HUC from fulfilling its primary mission to train qualified Jewish professionals who serve God and teach Torah.

    Of course, if you know any “angel” who can help HUC-JIR at this difficult moment, it would be wonderful to encourage that individual, family or trust to help. In the early 900’s CE Saadia Gaon prevented the closing of the yeshiva at Sura, but it was only a temporary respite. Let us not think our time or our movement is immune to forces beyond us.


    Irwin A. Zeplowitz
    The Community Synagogue
    Port Washington, NY

  13. More articles here:

    It would be a disaster for my synagogue, the City of Cincinnati, the entire Midwest, the URJ, HUC itself and all American Jews who do not live on either the East or the West Coast if HUC’s Cincinnati Campus were to close.

  14. Have started a Facebook group to help drive support for this very VERY important issue…

  15. anonymous says:

    Rabbi Zeplowitz,

    With all due respect, the questions that Rabbi Ellenson presented that the Board will be pondering all sounded rhetorical. Everything has been presented as if the decision has already been made–if not by the Board, then by someone, or a group of someones. The lack of transparency is abysmal, across the board. The fact is, the problems that HUC is facing because of the economic crisis are problems the College-Institute has had for years. If there had been no economic crisis, I am certain that HUC would have ambled along with the same fiscal problems for another 30 years. The professional management of this institution is substandard, and as much as the Board has tried to promote the “three campuses, one school” idea, there is more competition than cooperation among the campus administrations. There are no good choices here, but at the very least, the initiative should be taken on the part of the board and the professional leadership of this institution to listen to people—everybody, not just the muckity-mucks, but everybody. Where is the leadership? Where is the cooperation?

  16. Sammy says:

    I appreciate what Rabbi Zeplowitz wrote. BUT SHOW US THE NUMBERS!!!!! How can you close the Cincinnati campus when it is the best place to be financially??? Just because some people’s PERSONAL PREFERENCE is to be in a coastal locale??? WHAT DO THE NUMBERS, DOLLARS say about where to locate???? And a libaray and archives without students?? Come on rabbi.

  17. Reform Movement’s Flagship Seminary Among Schools Facing Crippling Cuts
    By Anthony Weiss
    Published April 24, 2009.

  18. anonymous says:

    There are large numbers of Jewish professionals and aspiring students who DO NOT live within a reasonable distance of any of the three campuses. We are a hugely underserved group who would gladly pay a premium for distance learning programs. This could generate significant revenue for HUC.

  19. Emmet kol says:

    Rabbi Zeplowitz writes eloquently and raises important points. These are painful decisions and no one wants to relocate. I understand and appreciate the need to be represented on both the east and west coasts. However, how is fiscal responsibility demonstrated by remaining in Manhattan? What about New Jersey or Philadelphia? If HUC expects me to think that they are acting prudently, they must show better planning that offers alternatives. Staying in Manhattan–even if it’s consolidating with the Union for Reform Judaism which is itself suffering fiscal woes–is hardly making the case. I hope they will put the brakes on their delibertaions. Such hasty decisions will have consequences that are far more destructive than anticipated.

  20. The Judai Collection of books in the Cincinnati HUC Campus Library is the Second largest collection in the World.I totally agree with my fellow commenter that it would be a crime towards the Jewish people to sell the Collection on Auction and be spread apart forever.Decisions are not made Final about the library OR HUC:s destiny, but our prayers are with you and i will also write to President.Ellenson-GBY/Anna Wennerholm

  21. Holly says:

    Anonymous: HUC in Cincinnati has done some online classes.

  22. Sam Kocherov says:

    It simply does not make sense to close the Cincinnati institution that is the most fiscally feasible. It is located within easier reach of smaller synagogues and temples located in the midwestern and southern states causing our potential rabbis, cantors and educators to locate to either of the coasts’ more expensive campuses, increasing their living expenses, and surely
    causing some retrospect in those who have tried to plan their rabbinic education during the next several years. Everyone is this country in going through financial hardships thanks to wishful investing which has become bottomless. Experts can find ways to make the feasible plans work properly and sensibly. We have a family member about to begin her stateside training.

  23. stuart hodesh says:

    I saw this coming when Rabbi Ellenson made the decision to locate his (main) office in NYC. This is when the die was cast. What better time then now to propose a move? Our country is in an economic slow down, the College is facing a loss of revenue and a negative income statement. So the directive comes down from NYC, close the Cincinnati campus. Now the Board will be faced with a major decision. Do we support the people in power that made the directive or do we sit back and look at the entire picture? The question is, what is best for the school or what is best for those in control of the school? The answer is simple……..THE SCHOOL. The Board is made up of an intelligent diverse group. The Board needs to use simple logic and as any prudent business person does, look at the numbers. The answer is clear keep the Cincinnati campus open and balancing the budget is on the way to being done.
    Bottom line, don’t let the player become bigger than the game. Keep the Cincinnati campus open.

  24. an alumn says:

    With all due respect to Rabbi Zeplowitz,

    You say “The decision of the URJ to decrease MUM dues only came in early March – and was as much a surprise to HUC as it was to anyone.”

    Absolutely FALSE.

    Rabbi Ellenson, in a meeting on December 29th in Jerusalem that included College alumni, indicated this dues reduction was coming. It may well have been a surprise when he first heard, but that was long long before March.

  25. anonymous says:

    It’s vital to keep this message of fiscal responsibility front and center. Keep sending letters and emails to Rabbi Ellenson, Ms. Friendman, and members of the board of governors, if you know who they are. As constituents, our voices must be heard.
    There will be a huge loss of credibility if the most efficient campus (and it is a campus) is closed for the sake of expensive real estate in Manhattan. Get the word out and encourage everyone who has a stake–Jew snd non-Jews–to communicate.

  26. Alma says:

    Maybe we should start donations to the college. I am willing to pledge 18 dollars to HUC in honor of the Cincinnati campus. I am only twelve years old and I do not know how to organize this. Is there an adult that would be willing to do this? I think this could really work, let’s try.

  27. Rachel says:

    Born and raised in Cincinnati, I have always been proud to be to know that when you drive up Clifton Avenue, HUC stood proudly. As an active member of NFTY in high school, I have so many fond memories of studying at HUC for the weekend, learning from all of the faculty who taught at our local temple and Reform Jewish High School. While I have always been a fan of each campus, and have amazing memories of the Jerusalem campus, in my heart of hearts, to close the Cincinnati campus, home to Reform Judaism, is the beginning of the end. How do you teach the importance of becoming a Rabbi and not have the original campus open? How do you invest millions of dollars in the Archives, Klau Library and the now separate Holocaust Center, and close the campus? Where is the common sense in this decision. Many friends and colleagues have shared that the main decision comes from the New York campus, that is where the money is, but I believe it is not that simple. When the discussions begin this weekend, open your mind and hear to where it all began, where Rabbi Issac M. Wise saw the vision of Reform Judaism, where Jacob Rader Marcus educated those around him, where Ben Wachholder studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, where Rabbi Gary Zola went from Director of Admissions, to the Director of the Archives and THE Rabbinical representative during the 350th Anniversary of Jewish Life in America. Where my rabbi(s), colleagues and camp friends started their careers, in a community where it was affordable to live and learn. Take time to look at each option, go back to how it used to be, giving Rabbi’s time to study in California, knowing they can only be ordained in Cincinnati. Go back to the feeling of having a standing room only crowd in Plum Street Temple on Ordination Day. We all want to “Go Green”, well now is the time to “Go HUC” and remember to keep the “C” in HUC.

  28. John says:

    It only makes perfect sense to keep Cincinnati open:
    1) It has the largest campus, with room to grow.
    2) It has the most reasonable cost.
    3) The most obvious reason for the other campuses is that the Jewish population is so large in both LA and NYC that we can’t shut those down. Well, HUC is a school of higher learning, not a synagogue. HUC prepares rabbis to lead synagogues, they aren’t the synagogue itself. Thus, to leave those populations is perfectly okay, actually its responsible.

    Those who want to study can leave those environments for a time (and save money on living while they do) to study in Cincinnati where they can be more focused, but still be in a city with much to offer. Further, HUC can maintain a presence in both coast cities by sending, or even having permanent, enrollment representatives in LA and NYC recruiting possible candidates.

    I understand that this is a most serious time for HUC, but I hardly agree with favoring either one of the campuses in LA or NYC.


  29. Holly says:

    Jewish Federation of Cincinnati: Letter to HUC-JIR President Rabbi David Ellenson from the Leadership of 23 Community Agencies and Congregations

  30. Chase says:

    Hey, i heard something today that is even more interesting, could someone confirm or disprove this rumor…

    I heard that HUC does not own the land that the cincy campus is on (unlike in NY and LA). The URJ is the owner. That, mixed with the following article that was sent as a part of the URJ weekly brief to subscribers all over the country, is making it blatantly obvious that this is not about money.

    Rabbi Ellenson and the east-coast biased board should be ashamed of itself.

  31. An Alumn says:

    While the answer may be obvious, I’m wondering if someone can explain for me why the Jerusalem campus is not in the mix. It seems to be off limits as the Board of Governors discusses the possibilities of closing one or two of the stateside campuses.
    The Jerusalem campus is beautiful and is prime real estate. Why not close that campus?

  32. B3976 says:

    The leadership of Hebrew Union College needs to work for the unification of the school on all of its campuses. The fight for the dominance of each campus has sapped its energy and been very costly. Let us all hope that Rabbi Ellenson and the faculty can fashion a new direction for this wonderful institution. Let us also hope that Barbara Friedman and the current Board of Governors find the wisdom and courage to put regional factionalism aside for the good of the Reform Movement and future generations of Rabbis.

  33. rashi says:

    Its not over til its over. The letter from the President and Chair of the Board, if read carefully, is very vague. A “presence” in Cincinnati does not mean students or classes or even the library and archives. There is still a lot of work to do before June 23. Keep up the pressure; keep those letters coming. Nothing has really been decided yet.

  34. april says:

    why has this discussion stopped. all 4 campuses will remain open. where are the financial resources that have suddenly appeared to enable this scenario to be financially sustainable and viable. Nothing makes sense?

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