The steady head at the helm of the US
arrives in October. But if the US is better run with a more confident public face, it is not without its challenges.
Although women may now enjoy lay leadership positions, some want more of a role in the synagogue ritual. Mr Pack cannot see the US giving its blessing to Orthodox partnership minyans, where women can read from the Torah and lead some prayers, in the next decade. But if some rabbis can find a way to include women more in the service within the bounds of halachah, then they should be free to go ahead, he believes.
The issue is “not going to go away,” he says, adding that it is critical for the US to educate men and women. “If you don’t know why we do things in a particular way, it’s very hard to form an intelligent judgment.”
But it is “a real misconception to think that in religious circles, women are inferior,” he contends.
“In some of the very Orthodox sects, far to the right of the United Synagogue, the women run everything. The men are learning all day... but the women run the family, make the key decisions.”
As the Institute for Jewish Policy Research survey earlier this year showed, the traditional middleground represented by the US has shrunk and faces a continuing squeeze from both left and right. But Mr Pack believes it can still maintain its inclusivist approach.
On the one hand, it must cater for the many members who are frummer than their parents: on the other hand, it must reach out to those young people who no longer regard synagogue membership as a priority. As a result, it will invest more in social activities for young adults and a mission to make communities more than “a place where you go to daven on occasions. That change in emphasis is going to underpin the whole of what comes out of our strategic view. I am very excited about that”.
The recent affiliation of Sheffield as the US’s first northern member encourages plans to “expand the organisation, but not in a predatory way. We already have conversations going on with other communities. We are an organisation others want to be part of. That is a hugely rewarding thing.”
Stephen Pack ( above) has ushered in historic advances for Orthodox women. ( Below) The first group of United Synagogue women trustees