Synagogue split over choice of rabbi

By Jay Grenby, July 19, 2012
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A major United Synagogue is still without a permanent minister after a lengthy selection process and the snubbing of the candidacy of its interim rabbi.

The 1,300-family Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue announced last Friday that after an “incredibly exhaustive” one-year search, no candidate would be recommended to succeed Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer.

Among those under consideration was Rabbi Shimson Silkin, who came to Borehamwood more than three years ago to run programmes for Seed and was appointed interim senior minister in September.

Speaking from the bimah on Shabbat, Rabbi Silkin thanked congregants for their support. He said that although he had applied late in the process, he had sincerely wanted the job, having developed a great affection for the community. He and his family were happy in Borehamwood and he assured his supporters that he was not about to leave the area.

Following this — and the launch of a Facebook group backing Rabbi Silkin’s appointment — shul chairman Mike Cohen once again wrote to members on Monday, explaining that the board had concluded that “no candidate would command overwhelming support within the community — and as such, it could not recommend any candidate couple”.

Mr Cohen acknowledged the contribution made by Rabbi Silkin and his wife. Although his tenure was due to end next month, “together we are exploring a number of options whereby this might be extended for a period thereafter”.

Meanwhile, the ministerial search would continue through United Synagogue sources and referrals from the UK and abroad.

However, some congregants were not pacified, with one active member describing the synagogue as “completely dysfunctional. This shul has been through three rabbis in five years. Clearly, there are serious disagreements in the community about what we want from our rabbinic leadership. We either need to settle the question, or to split.”

Another observed that “the size of the community means that it is becoming almost unmanageable and Rabbi Silkin has been working virtually 24/7 to try to keep up with everything he needs to do. The number one priority should be to keep him within our community.”

Emeritus minister Rabbi Alan Plancey was sad to see the congregation experiencing such problems.

“My wife and I spent 35 years working together as a team to establish and build up Borehamwood as a flagship community for Anglo-Jewry and we would not want to see anything happen to harm it.”

A US representative said a number of excellent candidates had applied. “It was only during the process that it became clear that none had that unifying character that the community so wants.

“The US will continue supporting the community, helping to widen the selection net and ensuring that the needs of the community are met during the transition.”

    Last updated: 2:01pm, July 19 2012