Bournemouth Reform faces breakaway

By Cathy Forman, September 10, 2009
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Bournemouth Reform Synagogue is holding a special general meeting on Sunday in an effort to stave off the threat of a breakaway group within the 500-strong community.

Disaffected members cite concern at the shul’s financial management, infighting among the synagogue council and unhappiness with minister, Rabbi Neal Amswych. It is claimed that 70 people are prepared to support alternative High Holy-Day services at the town’s Carrington House Hotel for members who do not want to attend the synagogue.

Jeffrey Sheaf — who is tonight holding an erev Shabbat service at his home for two dozen people — alleged that the shul “is spending more than our income. There are no constraints on spending.”

Nathan Roseman, a Bournemouth Reform member for 25 years, said that although a breakaway group had not been established, “a choice of service is to be offered to those who would not plan to attend the synagogue. There is a lot of disaffection within the community.” He claimed that elements of the old shul council had refused to accept newly-elected council members.

However, he was hoping for reconciliation — “I want our community to get back to where it was four years ago.” It was in 2005 that Rabbi Amswych replaced the long-serving Rabbi David Soetendorp.

Bournemouth Reform chairman Ron Rosenfeld denies that the shul is in deficit and believes Sunday’s meeting will allow the community “to get back on track. I understand there is a possibility of a group setting up. But I don’t know why they might be doing this.”

He added that “Rabbi Amswych is very popular with the majority of members. People were comfortable with Rabbi Soetendorp. A number of our members have difficulty in dealing with change.”

Mr Rosenfeld also highlighted the “invaluable” contribution of Rabbi Amswych’s wife, Rabbi Jenny Amswych, who serves the community on a part-time basis.

Noting that a number of council members had recently resigned, he said it would be “helpful to have a council of people who are committed to serving their community”.

No approach has been made to Reform Judaism about setting up an alternative congregation in the area. The movement’s director of synagogue services Mike Frankl said the Bournemouth shul had considerable cash reserves. It was expected that a new council would be elected at Sunday’s meeting and the movement “will support the new trustees in the same way it supports all other Reform synagogue councils”.

    Last updated: 2:00pm, September 10 2009