This teenage squabbling will drive young members away

By Jennifer Lipman, April 26, 2013

As anyone who has ever been or met one will know, a teenage girl in the midst of a catfight can give Abbas and Bibi a run for their money in the stubbornness stakes.

"You won't even remember what you're fighting over when you look back," and "life is too short to argue like this," were just a few of the platitudes I offered when, as a leader on a Jewish camp, I was faced with two resolute warring young women.

In the event, they put aside their differences, at least for the duration of the trip. I imagine their reunion had more to do with teenage politics than with my guidance, much as I would like to think of myself as some kind of modern-day Gandhi. But occasionally, I wish the elders of Anglo-Jewry would heed the same advice.

It took the chief rabbi's office more than a week after Baroness Thatcher died to confirm whether he would be attending her funeral. Now they may have felt like such vacillation was necessary, given the historic sensitivities surrounding both rabbinic interventions in politics and presence at non-Jewish religious services. Indeed, attendance at Churchill's funeral was not a given for Israel Brodie - not simply because it was a Shabbat - while Lord Sacks' decision not to attend Princess Diana's funeral, but to mourn from the crowd, provoked a flurry of criticism .

Add to that Reform rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, who chose not to bid farewell to the Baroness because of her personal views - thus incurring fury for jarring with the Reform response to the 1996 Hugo Gryn affair (Lord Sacks, famously, did not attend the progressive rabbi's funeral).

There will always be a disgruntled of Stamford Hill

So one rabbi worries about going to church - for fear of displeasing the devout? - while another, perhaps inadvertently, does what she has once condemned a different branch of Judaism for.

It's not just the rabbis. Too many communal groups seem to be watching over their shoulders, concerned with who gets the credit rather than what is done, worrying about putting their heads above the parapet even if they believe they should. The religious battle the secular, not least over Limmud, while the more progressive occasionally assume that everyone who does not share their view - such as on women sitting next to men at religious events - is backward. The left and right wings appear unable to accomodate the other in our gargantum tent, with the ZF's foolish sidelining of Yachad a case in point.

It would be funny, this teenage bickering, if it wasn't so terribly dispiriting.

Because teenagers, the ultimate authorities on caring what others think, by and large have put their catfighting days behind them by the time they can legally sip their Palwin. Yet these spats have been part of communal life for decades.

Yes, discord is natural (and necessary for newspapers), and we can hardly expect all our organisations to fall in line. It's that sometimes it seems that expectation - "how it might look" - is put above doing the right thing, or what is felt to be right. A case of "I agree with what you say, but it's not expedient for me to defend it right now."

And the fact is that 90 per cent of the community doesn't care. Most won't be aware that the chief might have raised some traditional eyebrows by stepping into St Paul's; most would assume it a normal part of his interfaith duties.

Most see these squabbles - the high-level ones, but also the shul boards divided over the appointment of a rabbi - as petty.

There will always be a disgruntled of Stamford Hill or Stanmore, but why do our communal leaders not have more courage to rise above? As Tony Blair noted, "when you decide you divide".

When the Hugo Gryn affair was brought up, it felt like ancient history. The idea that as a minority, declining and occasionally facing real threats, we could ever divide ourselves over something as basic as attending a funeral - as devotees of a religion that prioritises lovingkindness - was baffling. For many in my generation, religion is seen positively where it encourages building bridges and accepting diversity. We talk about the necessity of interfaith, assuming intrafaith is stating the obvious. That's the religion we want going forwards - one that allows for difference, but does not fear challenging traditional expectation. Pettiness will only drive us away. We want a community, not communal politics.

Disagreement is at the heart of Jewish life; we broiges because we care. We have thrived as a community in no small part because we prioritise educating our members to argue their case. But there is a difference between engaging in healthy debate and behaving like petulant teenagers.

Last updated: 10:45am, April 26 2013