Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue members, along with United Synagogue leaders, were dismayed to hear that three of the shul’s four honorary officers have resigned.
According to the announcement, which was emailed to members of the 1,300-family congregation on erev Shabbat last week, the three HOs — chair Mike Cohen, vice-chair David Onnie and financial representative Mark Tenzer — have stepped down following allegations of a breach of confidence and the disclosure of confidential material from within the board of management.
Despite the failure of the US — called on by the HOs at short notice to investigate the matter — to identify any evidence to substantiate the allegations, the three HOs went ahead with their decision.
Mr Cohen said he and his colleagues had chosen to resign because they felt their positions as community leaders had been undermined by the leaks and because the entire board had been compromised.
With board members refusing to elaborate, the source of the allegations was a major talking point at the shul over the weekend. Mr Cohen, about to go away for a planned three-week holiday, told the JC he believed that he and his colleagues had not overreacted.
In the meantime, the remaining HO, warden Joel Sager, is soldiering on alone, fellow warden Johnny Maurer having resigned several weeks ago for reasons unconnected with the present crisis.
“The last man standing” as he was described by fellow congregants, has elected not to resign ahead of the High Holy Days. He was also concerned by the leaks. “I support the other HOs,” he said, “and am very upset that it has come to this.
“However, I could not leave the shul without anyone to organise services over the Yomim Noraim.”
On Tuesday, shul members received a letter from US president Stephen Pack designed to allay concerns about the future of the community, which he called “a jewel in the US crown”. An immediate plan is to call a board meeting to discuss and then fill the “casual” vacancies that have been created — the US by-law expression used when HOs resign mid-term. The US will be providing immediate administrative support for the shul “during this challenging period”.
Despite recent controversy over the recruitment of a new minister to succeed Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer, the congregation is “one of the most committed and vibrant US communities”, insisted Mr Pack. He assured members that the US would work hard alongside the shul’s board “to ensure that events of the past few weeks … will not undermine the remarkable work done by the rabbis of the community, both past and present, together with successive boards of management”. The shul’s interim senior minister is Rabbi Shimshon Silkin.
Shul members have been vocal in their support for the outgoing HOs. One member of 35 years’ standing said that his initial reaction to their resignation was astonishment, swiftly followed by horror and concern. “Mike Cohen and his colleagues have done a sterling job, but obviously they have been upset in a way that has forced them to do what they did.”