Proud to be main­stream

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - Jeremy Jacobs

IN RE­CENT years, the word “main­stream” has been seized upon by dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the Jewish com­mu­nity. The dic­tio­nary def­i­ni­tion of the word is “a pre­vail­ing cur­rent of thought, in­flu­ence, or ac­tiv­ity within a so­ci­ety or group”. It is time the word was used prop­erly — in which con­text I feel proud that 70 per cent of this coun­try’s synagogue mem­bers af­fil­i­ate with Ortho­dox Ju­daism, the vast ma­jor­ity of them iden­ti­fy­ing with the au­then­tic, in­clu­sive and mod­ern val­ues of the United Synagogue which speak as strongly to Jews to­day as they ever have.

And, in the face of de­clin­ing mem­ber­ship, gen­eral ap­a­thy and as­si­m­il­i­a­tion across the whole com­mu­nity, the US is still the body best equipped to re­vi­talise Jewish life in this coun­try.

The United Synagogue is a unique or­gan­i­sa­tion, re­spected and en­vied the world over. With 40,000 mem­bers, ac­count­ing for around 80,000 souls, it en­com­passes the whole spec­trum of re­li­gious prac­tice. We wel­come Jews of vary­ing lev­els of ob­ser­vance and be­lief, and are com­mit­ted to en­gag­ing and en­rich­ing our mem­bers’ lives, mov­ing them along their Jewish jour­ney at a pace with which they are com­fort­able. No other Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tion in the UK ap­proaches our size and in­flu­ence — this is why the US con­tin­ues to fly the “main­stream” Jewish flag.

Over the past 141 years, the US has en­sured the con­ti­nu­ity of Ortho­dox prac­tice and af­fil­i­a­tion in this coun­try. My own grand­chil­dren are eighth-gen­er­a­tion US Jews. Be­ing part of the US gives my fam­ily the best chance of pre­serv­ing their Jewish iden­tity.

This re­ally mat­ters to our mem­bers. They want their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren to con­tinue their tra­di­tions. They want them to re­main Jews. They are con­cerned by the as­sim­i­la­tion and loss of iden­tity that is hap­pen­ing in Amer­ica where, to para­phrase one com­men­ta­tor, the non-Ortho­dox de­par­ture from Jewish life could see the end of Re­form and Con­ser­va­tive Ju­daism.

The United Synagogue stands firmly against this loss of iden­tity, with val­ues that place us firmly at the cen­tre of Jewish life. Our mem­bers, ob­ser­vant or not, re­alise that be­ing part of the US ensures that they are linked with a her­itage un­bro­ken since the ex­o­dus from Egypt and the rev­e­la­tion at Mount Si­nai.

Of course, not all our mem­bers live “frum” lives, but they know how im­por­tant it is for them to ful­fil their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as Jews, in the tra­di­tion of their for­bears.

Our rab­bis un­der­stand this, and em­brace all mem­bers, while en­cour­ag­ing them to in­crease their Jewish ob­ser­vance.

At the same time, the US also ful­fils the as­pi­ra­tions of the “frum­mer” Jew. This unique part­ner­ship be­tween prac­tis­ing and non-prac­tis­ing Jews adds enor­mous strength to our com­mu­nity.

We are taught that each Jew has a re­spon­si­bil­ity for his or her fel­low Jew what­ever that per­son’s level of ob­ser­vance or be­lief. The US is per­fectly placed to carry out this re­spon­si­bil­ity. Those or­gan­i­sa­tions at ei­ther pole of Jewish life are un­com­fort­able with each other. This is not true of the US. We value our in­clu­sive ap­proach — which nev­er­the­less brooks no com­pro­mise. Our mem­bers know for ex­am­ple, that, with the “hechsher” of the United Synagogue, their chil­dren’s mar­riage is ac­cepted through­out the Jewish world.

As for the de­cline af­flict­ing re­li­gious life through­out the en­tire Bri­tish so­ci­ety, the US ad­dresses this ro­bustly. Tribe, the young US, has al­most 14,000 mem­bers whose pos­i­tive Jewish ex­pe­ri­ences are bear­ing fruit. We now have four times as many full mem­bers un­der the age of 30 com­pared to five years ago.

We are de­vel­op­ing, at a rapid rate, fur­ther pro­grammes fo­cused on mod­ern, in­clu­sive en­gage­ment, within an au­then­tic Jewish en­vi­ron­ment Our Liv­ing and Learn­ing pro­grammes are geared to pro­vid­ing Jewish ed­u­ca­tion, firmly based in ha­lachah, in an ex­cit­ing way, and our in­spir­ing Ch­esed work fo­cuses on car­ing for our own mem­bers as well as en­gage­ment with the out­side world.

The US is the main­stream, not stag­nant but flow­ing. Jeremy Jacobs is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the United Synagogue

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