Glasgow must invest in 'people not buildings'

By Adam Henderson, April 11, 2014
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Glasgow Jewish Representative Council president Paul Morron has urged the city's shuls to implement radical change and "invest in people rather than buildings".

Mr Morron made the plea at a question time event marking the council's centenary. He said afterwards: "I am telling them to get themselves in order. They need to be looking at modern techniques of engagement like social media. They have very big buildings and these need to be opened out more to the community."

He added that one virtue of a declining Jewish population was the opportunity to have "a more coherent community". But this would require a rethink on use of resources. He said that a community centre was also badly needed.

"It will not be viable within the next decade to have both Giffnock and Newton Mearns [synagogues]. We have three big sites currently and if we have the vision we may be able to develop one or two of these sites and have a community hub like most other communities our size do.

"Our community futures survey showed that people aren't happy with shul membership fees. It's especially prohibitive for young people and families. It's more important to get people into the community than have money.

"Shuls have said they would be willing to lower membership fees for people who can't afford it but this isn't enough. We need more imaginative solutions and I really want to put out a challenge to them to be more proactive."

At the debate, Glasgow's new youth rabbi Eliezer Wolfson pledged to resume an Orthodox cheder system but said he needed the backing of shul management committees and the wider community to make it happen.

Other issues raised were the lack of female leadership and outreach work, on which Mr Morron cited the efforts of local Lubavitch couple Rabbi Chaim and Sora Jacobs. "Their methods may be different but they show it can be done. Giffnock and Newton Mearns need to see that we can all learn from anybody who has found a succesful way of doing outreach."

Rabbi Jacobs said afterwards: "We're the only shul in Glasgow that's seeing an increase in attendances. It's quite unusual for boys after barmitzvah age to be coming to shul but we create a welcoming environment."

A straw poll among the audience of around 400 saw only three people come out in favour of Scottish independence. However, Mr Morron branded the view that antisemitism would increase in an independent Scotland as "arrant, irresponsible nonsense".

Last updated: 12:07pm, April 11 2014