Negotiations for a possible merger of Agudath Israel Congregation and Congregation Beth Shalom, Ottawa’s two largest Conservative congregations, have ended without an agreement to move forward.
The two congregations launched a joint merger task force in 2012 to explore the possibility of merger. No agreement was reached and the negotiations stalled for some months before beginning again after the sale of Beth Shalom’s synagogue building at 151-153 Chapel Street. Beth Shalom is scheduled to vacate the building by March 31, less than four months from now.
In a joint statement sent to members of the two congregations on December 1, the eight members of the task force – four from each congregation – reported that while “great strides were made in reaching agreement in a number of areas that would support the principle of a merger,” there were “a number of issues on which there remain a significant divide.”
Agreement was not reached, the task force reported, on such issues as “current needs, existing clergy, and issues relating to governance.” The negotiations did not reach the point at which the two congregations would disclose such matters as membership rolls, revenue, and assets and liabilities.
Acknowledging “there still may be hope for a path forward,” the task force said the divide between the two congregations is currently too wide “to develop a comprehensive recommendation” on a possible merger of the congregations.
The task force said it “has ceased all further deliberations” and “come to a natural conclusion of its mandate.”
The question of where Congregation Beth Shalom will go when it vacates its building remains to be answered. In October, the Beth Shalom board informed members that prospective temporary locations were being looked into and that “just in case nothing more permanent works out in the meantime,” Centrepointe Theatre has been reserved as the location to hold their High Holy Days services next September and October.
Michael Regenstreif is the editor of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.