US closes gap with affiliates in row over distance clause

By Jay Grenby, January 26, 2012
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Progress has been made towards resolving a long-running dispute between the United Synagogue and its affiliated congregations over recruitment rules. But affiliated synagogues committee chair, Reynold Rosenberg, says "there is still some way to go".

At issue is the US's enforcement of a clause prohibiting affiliated communities - most located away from the major Jewish centres - from attracting members living more than a mile-and-a-quarter from their premises.

A clarification agreed at a meeting with US president, Stephen Pack, and community director, David Kaplan, allows affiliates to recruit people living further away, provided they have not been a member of another US synagogue during the previous three years. Affiliates may also accept transfers by existing US members whose new address is closer to an affiliated synagogue than a constituent shul. Beyond that, exemptions may be made, "in exceptional circumstances".

Mr Rosenberg, who is also the Welwyn Garden City Synagogue chair, said the distance requirement "was suddenly reapplied two or three years ago. It was because of fears among the larger constituent communities that affiliated synagogues were poaching - attracting recruits by offering membership of a US synagogue, with its consequent burial rights, at greatly reduced fees.

Membership row had posed 'a serious threat to some small communities'

"In fact, affiliated synagogues charge lower fees because they are based in smaller communities and are not equipped to offer the same kind of facilities as their larger cousins."

Applications to affiliated shuls had virtually dried up since the rule's enforcement, leading to "a serious threat to the existence of some of the smaller communities".

Despite the progress, Mr Rosenberg wanted further concessions from the US. "For example, they are using the rule to prevent grown-up children residing away from the parental home from joining the shul where they were brought up."

At the US, Mr Kaplan said meetings with the affiliated representatives had been "useful and productive".

Although agreeing that the by-laws affecting affiliates "are not fit for purpose and need updating", he maintained the US had not in two years refused an application to join an affiliate synagogue from anyone new to it.

    Last updated: 1:38pm, January 26 2012