We need to transform the community. This is how

The JC asked communal figures and readers for their ideas to improve Jewish life in the UK. Here’s a selection

April 22, 2010
Why don’t we create a succah in Trafalgar Square?

Why don’t we create a succah in Trafalgar Square?

Keren David: Pay membership fees to your community, not your synagogue

It is expensive being an active member of the Jewish community. A typical family has to pay synagogue and burial fees. Those with more than one child at a Jewish school face voluntary contributions running into thousands of pounds. If you are at a non-Jewish school then cheder fees are hefty too. And then there are the numerous appeals to support charities whose services are essential to the community's good running. No wonder some cannot afford it.

In Amsterdam, where I lived for eight years, they arrange things differently. You join a community, not an individual shul. Members are charged a proportion of their annual income to join - three per cent for the richest members, less for lower incomes. This communal income tax funds synagogues, cheders, Jewish social services, cemeteries and the rabbinate. It subsidises Jewish schools and other youth services.

Of course, additional charitable donations and state funding are needed, but the general principle of fairness is one that could only benefit British Jews, as is the feeling that every member - rich or poor - has a part to play in building the community.

Keren David is a journalist and author of the young adult novel 'When I Was Joe'

● Jonathan Boyd: Build a Succah in Trafalgar Square

Throughout Succot, there ought to be a succah in Trafalgar Square. The bigger the better. It would be staffed by Jewish volunteers and serve as a temporary shelter and soup kitchen - a place for the homeless to come for a free hot meal. Why? First, because a succah is a temporary dwelling, a fragile place of refuge that reminds us of our own vulnerability. In contrast, homelessness is not a temporary state - it is a permanent reality. Could we take a symbol of our own homelessness, and turn it into a shelter for those who need no symbolic reminders of what it means to have no home?

Second, the notion of succah as soup kitchen bridges the particular and the universal. It both celebrates the particular simchah of a Jewish holiday, and extends our hearts and hands out into the wider world. Third, it clearly associates Judaism with social justice. It makes a clear public statement. To be Jewish is to take responsibility, to reach out to others.

At a time when religion generally is associated with violence and extremism, it offers a dramatically different perspective. It should not cost much to set up, but its practical and symbolic value could be immense.

Jonathan Boyd is the executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research

● Neil Bradman: Appoint rabbis who reflect their congregants

Let's face it, most members of so-called Orthodox synagogues do not think that what their rabbi advocates reflects the way they live. We all know that a large proportion of members of Orthodox shuls "park round the corner on festivals", most married women do not cover their heads outside of shul and men even shake hands with women.

It is time to stop feeling guilty. Let us strike a blow for honesty. If this is the way we wish to live, let us appoint rabbis who say it is acceptable to do so. The power is in our hands and by not exercising it we are declaring how unimportant rabbinical opinion is to us. It is a game of "we pretend to respect you and you pretend to be respected". It is unhealthy and it breeds hypocrisy.

We in the Anglo-Jewish community are truly fortunate in having democratic control over our own religion. We elect our leaders and they, in turn, select and employ our rabbis and religious judges (dayanim) - directly or indirectly. So why do we so often complain about them?

We can solve the problem. Let us pay them proper respect and learn what their views are before we hire them. Every rabbi is entitled to hold whatever opinions they wish, but if we do not like them we shouldn't employ them.

Neil Bradman is chairman of The Centre for Genetic Anthropology

● Natan Levy: Turn Shabbat into the Greenest day of
the week

When my secular Israeli cousins told me that Yom Kippur was their favourite day of the year, I was shocked. What could turn the Day of Atonement into the highlight of a kid's calendar? So they showed me their bikes. "It's not just Yom Kippur," they told my seriously, "it's Yom Ofanayim - Bike Day."

Yom Kippur is bike day because no matter how irreligious one considers oneself, in Israel no one drives on Yom Kippur. The streets become the domain of children and pedestrians. Air pollution levels drop dramatically and fatal accident rates stay down all day.

Yom Kippur in Israel reveals what can happen when a nation holds a day of rest en masse.Just imagine this occurring once a week, every week. That is the Jewish vision of Shabbat, a concept so alive with potential that it could transform a world overburdened with pollution and greed.

The world yearns for a day of rest. We Jews must do the reminding.

Rabbi Natan Levy is the head of the London School of Jewish Studies Jewish Responsibility Unit

● Anthony Silverbrow: celebrate our food

Food is both perceived as, and is actually, central to the Jewish identity. Yet as a community in the UK, food is rarely a topic for debate. It is something we all do, it is something we sometimes do together as a community, but it is rarely discussed.

In the United States there is a vocal movement discussing the ethics of kosher food. These are not debates about shechitah, rather they are discussions about why is kosher meat so expensive; why have animals destined for the shochet's knife lived in conditions rarely much better than factory farms; and is it all about quantity, or does quality matter as well.

The secular world has handled similar issues, focusing on provenance, animal husbandry and alternative farming methods. The kosher community in the UK blindly goes on eating puffy, watery chickens and heavily processed foods, and kosher shops and restaurants get credit for selling food approximating treif equivalents, not for the quality of their produce.

I am advocating that we should not just be celebrating with food, but we should also celebrate our food. We should have a kosher restaurant week where restaurants show off the quality of their cooking. Butchers should do blind tastings comparing organic-style and "normal" chickens. Fishmongers should remind us that it was Jews who first brought fish and chips to the UK.

It is time to embrace what we eat and how we eat it and stop being so reticent about something so self-defining.

Anthony Silverbrow is a blogger on food issues

● Keith Kahn-Harris: Share our synagogues with other religions

It is hard to build synagogues in this country. Land is rarely available and property prices are extortionate.

UK synagogues are often stuck in buildings that are inappropriate and some have no building at all. But what if we collaborated with other religions to build synagogues?

There are already models for Jewish communities that encompass different denominations in the same building - the Oxford and Stockholm communities for example. These communities do not simply share buildings for pragmatic reasons, they actively seek to create a community that is bigger than any one denomination.

My idea is that the idea of the multi-denominational Jewish community should be extended to create a multi-faith community. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and others should collaborate to build a space that can serve for worship and community activities. This would allow different groups to pool resources, and improve the often strained relations between religions.

There would, of course, be difficulties in making this kind of community, but the process of working through those difficulties would, if handled appropriately, help to create deeper relationships.

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is honorary research Fellow at the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society, Birkbeck College and convenor of New Jewish Thought

● Naftali Brawer: Create a virtual community

There are many Jews across the UK who do not share the benefits of belonging to a vibrant Jewish community. Community without Borders (CWB) would provide a virtual community on a website. The site would be a cross between Facebook, JDate and Jewish information websites.

Firstly, CWB would link in with existing Jewish sites which provide information on the Jewish calendar, festivals, Torah thoughts and a wide range of Jewish resources, and encourage interaction with other users.

This will be possible through CWB's second feature, enabling each user to post a profile about themselves, as in JDate and Facebook.

A third feature would be chatrooms where members can exchange ideas on a whole range of Jewish issues.

Finally CWB would have a communal notice board on which members can post personal announcements pertaining either to simchahs or bereavements. Members will also be able to post special requests - for example, if a small community needs to borrow a Sefer Torah for an upcoming festival or someone to lead services. Members could also volunteer their skills and expertise.

The underlying concept behind CWB is that it is to be a dynamic forum for Jews from all walks of life and geographical locations to discover, and connect with, each other.

Unlike Facebook, the idea is not to remain secluded in a virtual world, but rather whenever possible to use it as a springboard towards creating real face-to-face relationships.

Rabbi Naftali Brawer is minister of Elstree and Borehamwood Synagogue

Last updated: 3:51pm, April 22 2010