Leeds rabbi: let's merge three synagogues

A radical plan to merge the three Leeds Orthodox synagogues into a super-community has received a mixed response.

The idea to consolidate the congregations on a large single campus was floated in a guest Shabbat sermon by Rabbi Jason Kleiman at the United Hebrew Congregation.

Rabbi Kleiman, minister of the nearby Beth Hamidrash Hagadol community, was participating in a pulpit swap. He said afterwards that a passionate response to a controversial sentiment was hardly surprising. But communal assets could be used more effectively.

"It's a demographics issue," he argued. "We have three very expensive buildings, all much of a muchness. The argument is not about a dwindling community - it's the exact opposite. I want to see a united community, a new entity with the three leaders of these shuls working together."

Local representative council president Hilton Lorie says any decision would be up to the synagogues and their memberships, but would welcome a discussion on the possibility.

"If it's a way the community can move forwards and become more vibrant and more appealing - and the money realised can be used to push the community forward - then an idea like that is a great one."

But Jonathan Rose, president of the 1,000-strong UHC congregation, claimed the sermon evoked no interest in amalgamation among the membership. "Our shul has a strong future," he said.

"On a practical level there are difficulties in doing it. We would struggle to fit any more than the 1,000 people who come on Rosh Hashanah."

The 1,300-member Etz Chaim has held merger talks with BHH, which Etz Chaim president Paul Gross stressed were at an early stage. "We have said that we are prepared to meet with BHH and examine if it makes sense to combine everything on one campus."

Although many would find Rabbi Kleiman's proposal "unsettling, I would never turn around and say an idea is rubbish until I've heard it through".

    Last updated: 2:11pm, May 27 2010