Why we must urgently co-operate: Stephen Moss

By Stephen Moss, September 11, 2008

Synagogue movements cannot reach everyone - unless they work together


The UK Jewish population is both ageing and shrinking. If you have a family of three children, the chances are that one will marry in, one will marry out and one will not marry at all - either out of choice or because they are not heterosexual. The new generation is generally more secular, more attracted to informal social networks and less attracted to Jewish institutions as the means of engagement with Jewish worship and Jewish culture. We cannot afford to lose one single Jew if we are to survive as a significant contributor to British society and inspire future generations to maintain their Jewish identity. This is the urgent reality that Jewish community leaders have to confront today.

No-one has a monopoly on truth and there is no single pathway to leading an enriching and authentic Jewish life. No one group in the community can meet everyone's needs. That is today's reality. We therefore have a responsibility to plan together, work together and find new collaborative ways to reach out to people as individuals. We must support and encourage their personal Jewish journey.

To retain the next generation, we must be inclusive, welcoming people in, rather than raising barriers to their participation. As they are presently constituted, synagogues and synagogue movements cannot reach everyone, but they can develop collaborative initiatives which will.

There is a particularly urgent requirement for the movements to work together to engage more young people through easier access to Jewish schools, to provide help and resources to more university students and to find ways of encouraging those in mixed-faith relationships to positively consider conversion and, failing that, to choose to bring their children up in a predominantly Jewish home environment. These are the three areas where there is the greatest risk of loss to the Jewish community.

We can no longer afford to duplicate institutions and programmes for the sake of denominational independence. The wellbeing of the community as a whole is going to have to take precedence over our own individual interests and needs. Collaborative leadership in this context calls for a new level of respect for each other's movements and for the rabbis, professionals and lay leaders who work within them. It demands significant change in the ways we work together. It assigns first priority to a commitment for renewed enthusiasm for cross-communal partnership. The task is urgent as the demographic challenge is very real.

Reform believes passionately that this commitment to collaborative leadership in the interests of the community at large represents the best - and only - way forward at the beginning of the 21st century.

Stephen Moss is chairman of Britain's Reform movement

Last updated: 1:09pm, September 22 2008