JSocs are spreading into the corporate arena, allowing Jewish employees at major financial and law firms In Canary Wharf to get together for social, cultural and religious activities.
“It’s become a common trend,” observed KPMG Jewish Society member Alexander Gold. “The JSoc gives us a chance to socialise, provides networking opportunities and forms a big part of our voluntary corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme.”
Regular breakfasts and lunch-and-learns and annual Chanucah parties are among KPMG JSoc activities.
“We’re very fortunate that KPMG has been so supportive in terms of the budget and time off from our day jobs,” Mr Gold said. “But the JSoc, like all societies at the firm, brings benefits to the organisation. It has a positive effect on the work environment.”
Another active member of the JSoc is former headhunter Amy Woolf, who recalled that her previous job was in “a very Jewish working environment where I didn’t have to explain who I was. The KPMG JSoc gives me a chance to have a Jewish life at work — it makes me feel very comfortable. I felt so proud when we lit the candles and had doughnuts in our offices during Chanucah.”
Ms Woolf is applying her skills as a member of KPMG’s diversity and inclusion team to advance the JSoc. “I can be the only woman at most events and I haven’t seen enough going on for secular people. It’s something that I wanted to address so I’m encouraging more people to get involved.
“We’ve lately had some fascinating speakers. One rabbi discussed the relationship between Jewish law, business issues and current affairs.”
Mr Gold said the JSoc was also an important source of information. “A lot of junior employees don’t know how the system works and how to take time off for Yomtov or Shabbos. They come to us and we clarify things.
“Since I started here more than four years ago, we’ve also managed to have kosher sandwiches every day in the office. Our monthly lunch-and-learns are not only for KPMG employees, but other Jewish workers in Canary Wharf.”
Another Canary Wharf JSoc is at law firm Clifford Chance, described by partner Adrian Cohen as part of a “conscious effort to promote diversity. We have a budget and the firm will pay for many of our events. We have a minyan, lunch-and-learns and a cheesecake party for Shavuot. There’s always a lot of food and the events also give us an opportunity to network as we bring together our Clifford Chance connections, from clients to barristers.”
A variety of activities — for example, a succah — are facilitated through Canary Wharf Group.
“The succah is aimed at Jewish employees in the area, but it also gives us a chance to invite in non-Jewish passers by, give them a cup of tea and explain what an etrog is,” Mr Cohen said.
Danny Seliger, a director at Canary Wharf Group, organises activities for Jewish employees.
“We have a main distribution email list that informs people when minchah is and what upcoming events are taking place,” he reported. “On a fast day, we bring up a Sefer Torah from Bevis Marks shul.
“We just had a big Purim event funded by the Canary Wharf Group and we invited more than 200 elderly people to take part — a lot of them have roots in east London.”
Mr Gold highlighted the benefits of JSocs for networking. “If you work in tax, it’s quite likely that most people you meet will also be from the tax department. The JSoc gives you a good opportunity to meet other people.”
Employees also use their firm’s CSR time to support charities such as Jewish Care, Norwood and The Fed in Manchester. Some participate in volunteering days at homes and day care centres.