Split over using synagogue resources to help new immigrants

By Sandy Rashty, November 22, 2013

Divisions in the community over its attitudes to immigrants have been revealed in the wake of Baroness Neuberger’s comments about the Bulgarians and Romanians expected to arrive in the UK next year.

Baroness Neuberger, rabbi of the West London Synagogue, said last week that British Jewry should speak out more on behalf of new arrivals, given its own history as an immigrant community.

She praised synagogues that have established drop-in centres for refugees and asylum-seekers.

But her remarks prompted criticism over the prospect of shul facilities being used for outreach work aimed at immigrants.

United Synagogue rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, of Mill Hill Synagogue, described the practice as “illogical". He said: “I don’t believe that shuls are the right venues to reach out to immigrants.” It was the job of government and dedicated charities to provide support, he suggested.

“At Mill Hill Synagogue we organise programmes for the community. It doesn’t make sense that they should be sacrificed so that resources can be used for something that is not our responsibility.”

No United Synagogues currently run ethnic minority drop-in centres, a spokesperson confirmed.

But Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, of North Western Reform (Alyth Gardens), stood by the 3,150-member shul’s monthly drop-in centre, which has run for three years, for Somali, Afghani and Congolese communities.

He said: “It’s about welcoming guests into your home and not being too precious about it. It wouldn’t have the same value if it wasn’t in our shul.”

He dismissed the claim that shul services should be reserved for members. “Shuls are about adding Jewish meaning to life and caring for those around us. I don’t see a clash.”

Edie Friedman, founder of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, praised the Reform, Liberal and Masorti synagogues for donating resources to immigrant, economic migrant and refugee communities.

“We’re part of a multicultural society and must play our part,” she said. “It’s part of who we are — Jews are immigrants and economic migrants. The synagogues have done a terrific job in supplying goods and restoring people’s dignity.”

Rabbi Shneur Odze, who will stand as a UKIP candidate in next year’s MEP elections, expressed his approval of using synagogue premises for outreach work to ethnic minorities. “It is an absolutely wonderful idea,” he said.

Last updated: 7:32pm, November 22 2013