Small communities office is out of cash

By Robyn Rosen, February 18, 2011

The office supporting small communities across the country is on the brink of closure after the withdrawal of UJIA funding.

Providing religious, cultural and educational backing for communities with less than 100 members, the Office for Small Communities has relied on UJIA cash to keep operational.

But the contribution has been slashed from £75,000 to £40,000 this year and there will be no further funding after September.

During the four years it has backed the OSC, UJIA has developed a website offering distance learning to small communities.

UJIA says its focus is "on powering educational programmes for young people in the UK and Israel. Therefore it is raising funds for these life-changing programmes rather than to support a pastoral and religious function.

"UJIA has been in discussion for over a year with other partners in the community to have them take over the Office for Small Communities and have secured funding until September 2011 to ensure an orderly transition is possible."

Elkan Levy, director of the OSC since 2004, is making aliyah and UJIA staff member David Yehuda Stern is now working with small communities.

Mr Levy said the UJIA funds had "helped significantly in maintaining Jewish life in the many outlying kehillot of the UK, where such central support is of great importance. It is now essential that replacement funding should be found so as to enable this essential work to continue."

Paul Spicker, chair of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and former chair of Dundee Hebrew Congregation, said: "The news about the OSC is disappointing and is a move in the wrong direction. The community is in a quandary as to whether it will be able to manage.

"Elkan Levy has visited us a number of times and it has been hugely supportive and helpful in terms of motivation and running services. It's a great pleasure to have them taken by someone who knows what they are doing."

Dundee attracts between five and 30 congregants to its monthly Shabbat service. But since December, the synagogue has been unusable following a water leak.

Harvey Kurzfield, chairman of the 80-strong Kehillat Kernow Jewish Community in Cornwall, was concerned by the funding crisis. "Elkan Levy and others have come several times to give us lectures and supported us in our work. It's given us the confidence to carry on.

"We will miss that support because it gave us extra attention from the outside world. We hunger for contact with other communities and they helped with that."

Last updated: 11:43am, February 18 2011