‘We are still too divided. Time for a new strategy’

By Simon Rocker, September 12, 2008
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The "statement on communal collaboration", issued today by the leaders of Britain's Reform, Liberal and Masorti movement, was born out of frustration and hope.

Frustration that the Stanmore Accords, the 10-year-old peace pact signed by the three movements and the United Synagogue, has produced too little of the practical co-operation proposed a decade ago.

And hope that the new statement will inspire a greater range of cross-communal enterprise typified by Limmud, the Jewish Community Secondary School project and the soon-to-be-launched business ethics organisation, ResponsAbility.

"It's not a prelude to a merger or a replacement for the Stanmore Accords," explained Michael Gluckman, executive director of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues. "Maybe it is a utopian dream but we want to see greater co-operation across the community on significant issues."

It is symptomatic of growing dissatisfaction with the Accords that the community consultative committee (CCC), the quarterly forum for religious leaders instigated by it, has not met for around a year, although a meeting is scheduled for November. It is understood that the statement for collaboration and its call for greater pluralism will be tabled for discussion there.

The CCC's non-Orthodox participants have long complained that the US has failed to live up to the spirit of the accords by declining to send a senior rabbinic delegate to meetings, despite the committee's constitution calling for the attendance of professional, lay and rabbinic representatives. Although the former US chief executive Rabbi Saul Zneimer did come to meetings, he represented the US's professional rather than rabbinic body.

One source close to the group behind this week's statement said: "The CCC as presently constituted doesn't work properly because they don't send the agreed representatives to meetings. If the US continues to refuse to field a senior rabbi, the CCC is, sadly, doomed."

According to Nigel Cole, the chair of Liberal Judaism, although the CCC may have led to "good, respectful relationships" between the movements, "there was no real drive in the way the committee was structured to make anything happen".

The fact that the committee's deliberations also took place in private led to "a certain amount of justified scepticism", he said. "There was no possibility to demonstrate to my members, at least, what they achieved."

Whereas the tone of CCC meetings may have been "affable and collegiate", he said, "if we are to work towards a society that is not fractured, we need to go further than that."

Going further, he said, means co-operating over schools, projects for students and youth, and Jewish ethical initiatives - as set out in the statement.

"Our population is declining at one per cent a year," Mr Cole said. "We recognise that the next generation of 18 to 35-year-olds are much more mobile and less interested in the institution of synagogues and more inclined to network through Facebook, Bebo or MySpace."

For Mr Gluckman, this move represents "a challenge to the whole community. All we are saying, to adapt John Lennon, is, give common sense a chance".

    Last updated: 4:37pm, September 23 2009