April 25, 2017

Our Story

2014 Shabbaton co-chairs

Left to right: co-founders Douglas Kandl & Eric Leiderman, along side first Shabbaton co-chairs Dana Eckstein & Tyler Dratch. (February 2014)

Building on the 23 year legacy of Koach – the Conservative movement’s college organization – students involved with the saveKoach campaign mobilized to form Masorti on Campus in the wake of the former organization being placed on permanent hiatus. Since our launch it has been essential part of our mission to rally together the various components of the Conservative movement, around the common purpose of college outreach and engagement. 

Douglas Kandl, then a senior at Pace University and the driving force behind the petition campaign, believed the impact of Koach had been huge. In a June 2013 interview he argued the need for “a college program that helps to ensure strong continuity throughout a young Jewish individual’s life.”

Local students react to loss of Conservative movement’s program for college students

Press clipping from June 2013. (Jewish Standard)

One of our first achievements was forming a strategic partnership with the Jewish Theological Seminary. It was Executive Vice Chancellor Marc Gary who first proposed JTS acting an incubator for our project. It was just a few short weeks later that the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism provided the initial funds necessary to get Masorti on Campus off the ground. These two events laid the framework for our big coming out event: a national Shabbaton hosted by JTS and Columbia/Barnard Hillel in February 2014.

“It had a huge impact, students came from all over the country.” – Douglas Kandl

Students try to revive Conservative movement’s college program

Press clipping from January 2014. (Jewish Standard)

Alyssa Blumenthal, a Queens College student who worked as a Koach intern and served as the last editor of that organization’s online magazine, believed Koach played a special role for college students since it’s “a time when you’re figuring things out.” Blumenthal explained the necessity of having this type of outreach organization: “It’s a chance to be part of a community that’s not the synagogue you grew up in, surrounded by peers who are trying to work out their identities in the same way you are.”

“We are the people who teach in junior congregations and Hebrew schools. We are advocates on campus and then we come home from college and become active in our shuls. We care passionately about Judaism in our own way.” We need a platform “for us to come together and meet people who share those same ideals and approaches to Judaism and to life. It’s a powerful force for us to come together Jewishly.” – Alyssa Blumenthal

JTS hosts young Conservative leaders from campuses across nation

Press clipping from May 2014. (HAKOL Lehigh Valley)

The freshly organized, Masorti on Campus, issued a press release in which we stated that “the student leadership of Koach has decided to form an independent network of college campuses, in order to stave off the void left without the previous organizational structure…. Using the established communities as a jumping off point, this new Masorti / Traditional-Egalitarian Jewish campus network will be working to develop a student run national Shabbaton. Unlike Koach’s signature annual Kallah Shabbaton, a new model will be used where students will host other students and a university’s Jewish life organization will help to coordinate.”

Eric Leiderman, then a student at the University of Hartford, noted that “today, across North America, the current campus environment is generally a polarized one. When college students meet new people with different Jewish upbringings for the first time, they often feel overwhelmed, and often have a hard time finding a middle ground for pluralism. Hillel often becomes a place of compromise, without actually taking a stand. Koach provided the perfect middle ground,” standing for both love of Torah and equality.

“We encourage campus communities to keep doing what they have been doing, filling the need for Jewish pluralism in a polarized world.”  – Eric Leiderman

Rabbi Esther Reed, senior associate director of the Rutgers Hillel, reassured her students that the Conservative community on the Rutgers campus is well-supported and will continue to thrive as it has. There will be an impact, but we will continue the programs we already have.”

Eric Leiderman gets an award from USCJ

Masorti on Campus leadership recognized for their work. (November 2015)

Rutgers Hillel is a model campus which was served by both a Koach student intern and a rabbinic intern from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Operating through Hillel, the Conservative student group holds weekly Friday night and Shabbat morning services, monthly or bimonthly programs as well as social events, and engages in community service.

Other branches of the movement will continue to work with college students. Including the Rabbinical Assembly, has many members working on college campuses, and the National Ramah Commission which is working to engage those college students who work at or attended Ramah campus during the summer.

Follow along as our story develops by reading articles written about us:  In The News

Supporter: Hillel International, Jewish Theological Seminary, Ramah Camping Movement

Partner: Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, MAROM Olami, Masorti Olami, Rabbinical Assembly, Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano, Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies