July 17, 2020 – By LILA SARICK
The Orthodox Union (OU), the umbrella organization for the North American Orthodox Jewish community, will be headed by two Canadians starting this fall.
Rabbi Josh Joseph has been appointed executive vice-president and chief operating officer beginning Sept. 1. He will be responsible for all OU programs and operations, other than OU Kosher, according to a press release from the organization.
Rabbi Joseph joins Rabbi Moshe Hauer, who was appointed executive vice-president May 1, and is the organization’s new rabbinic leader.
Both men are originally from Montreal, with Rabbi Joseph having attended Herzliah High School, while Rabbi Hauer studied at Yeshiva Gedola.
The two men take the helm of the New York-based OU, which represents over 400 member synagogues and runs numerous youth programs including the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), at a critical time, as institutions grapple with the far-reaching effects of the COVID pandemic.
The OU furloughed 125 employees in April, as in-person programs were forced to cancel and synagogues closed, JTA reported.
Since he arrived in May, Rabbi Hauer has been advising synagogues how to re-open safely and how to prepare for the High Holidays.
“We’re hopeful they (synagogues) will be open but we expect it’s going to look different,” Rabbi Hauer said in an interview with the CJR. “Our congregations are very motivated to make it work.”
Services will be shorter and fewer people will be permitted to attend to allow social distancing, he said. If possible, synagogues will hold multiple services, inside and outside their buildings.
The pandemic has put a strain on individuals’ and institutions’ finances, but Rabbi Hauer said the OU will work with member congregations.
“We will welcome any synagogue with complete understanding of their financial situation,” he said. “We face financial challenges, as everybody else does, but we’re going to be there for our synagogues and our community.”
Orthodox congregations have been “major, major consumers of Zoom” for prayer services and study sessions, but unlike more liberal denominations which have permitted live streaming of Shabbat services, the OU will not change its stance on forbidding electronic devices on Shabbat and holidays, he said.
Rabbi Joseph was a senior administrator for 16 years at Yeshiva University. In 2019, he chaired a university committee of rabbis and educators to address “matters of inclusion,” including LGBTQ issues. He would use the same strategy of gathering a diverse group at the OU.
“That would be my approach at the Orthodox Union – to try and make sure we are getting the right team together to hear the voices and to try to figure out a way forward for all of those who are important to us in our community.”
There is much still he does not know about his new role, including even whether he will be working from the OU’s office or from another site, since offices had closed during the early days of the pandemic.
It would be premature to speculate about what direction he would steer the OU or what some of the challenges he anticipates confronting the organization, he said.
“When you have an organization that’s doing great, that’s literally creating magic moments on a regular basis for people, where do you go from there?” Rabbi Joseph asked. “I don’t want to break it. I don’t want to make it go anywhere else.”