The steady head at the helm of the US

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS -

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.”

PHOTO: JOHN RIFKIN

Stephen Pack ( above) has ush­ered in historic ad­vances for Ortho­dox women. ( Below) The first group of United Sy­n­a­gogue women trustees

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