United Synagogue affiliates elect chair

The United Synagogue's affiliated congregations have elected their own chairman to fight their corner against attempts by the US to remove theirspecial status.

Reynold Rosenberg, chairman of Welwyn Garden City, one of 16 affiliated US synagogues, will spearhead efforts to resolve the dispute with US leaders.

Affiliated congregations have greater independence and pay less towards US central services than constituent shuls.

"It's not a post that has ever been needed before, but in light of recent developments, we small and scattered communities feel we need a spokesman," Mr Rosenberg said.

As the JC recently reported, the affiliates are upset over the US's enforcement of an old rule - widely disregarded in the past - that they cannot recruit members who live more than a mile-and-a-quarter away from the synagogue.

The rationale is to stop people leaving more expensive constituent communities in favour of a cheaper affiliated synagogue further away. But the affiliates maintain that the new policy is costing both them - and the US -members.

"We believe that the very survival of our communities is threatened by the recent actions of the United Synagogue," Mr Rosenberg said. "A long forgotten clause in the constitution is being used to starve the affiliates of membership. We fear that the ultimate aim is to close our synagogues."  

Affiliates were generally "located away from the centre of Jewish life - north London" and had to stand on their own feet, he pointed out.

"We recognise the valuable work done by the US for the Office of the Chief Rabbi, RCUS [rabbinical council], Beth Din and other umbrella functions and we pay for this. We pay our burial fees.

"But we do not need a large computer program to bill and record membership. We handle our own legal obligations for data protection and health and safety. We finance our own repairs and maintenance. And we keep our books in balance."

If the US maintained its current policy, it could lead to the closure of "up to eight communities", Mr Rosenberg warned.

"We fear their plan is to consolidate our congregations into one or two super-shuls. What then for the elderly members who have chosen homes so they can walk to shul? Or the single mothers who have found a friendly small community?"  

    Last updated: 4:03pm, March 4 2010