Britain is not a revolutionary nation and neither is its Jewish community. But we are part of an innovative, dynamic society and, over the past 20 years, we have enjoyed great progress in many aspects of British Jewish life and communal infrastructure.
More change is on the way that will profoundly influence our community's development over the next decades. Britain is no longer a society where Jews are one of a few minority exceptions. In our open society, we are all free to choose our own path.
The explosion of mobile internet has increased access to people, information and organisations - opening new relationships and opportunities for all. The 2011 census will highlight radical changes in our community's demography, from the rapid growth of the Orthodox and Charedi community to the rise - from less than a quarter, a generation ago, to almost three quarters - in the proportion of children who experience some full-time Jewish schooling. As we approach the 64th anniversary of Israel's independence, we will have to tackle our community's evolving relationship with an evolving Israel, as well adapt our defences to ever changing forms of antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
The New Leadership Network (NLN) has been quietly establishing itself as an informal network of 40 or so individuals who put significant personal energy into professional and lay (pro bono) leadership roles in many British Jewish activities and organisations.
As we get on with our own "communal day jobs", we thought it would be useful to consider: "What kind of Jewish community do we want to be part of and contribute towards building? Could we pursue our personal and organisational priorities collaboratively and perhaps with some broad consensus around common values?"
What kind of community do we want to be part of
In extending our invitation to others, we also ask: To what extent should we act in ways that strengthen the whole community, versus efforts that forward the interests of our particular niche? How open are we? How confident versus how fearful? How much do we prioritise our core and how far do we reach out to the edges of our community?
Case by case, answers won't be black or white, but perhaps the shade of grey should be informed by a desire for British Jewry to be confident and proud; to invest heavily in ourselves; to take the risk of being open and outward-looking; to actively welcome those at the edges, to connect with one another; and to make choices with the interests of wider Jewish community and British society in mind. In short, to be Jewish together, a group of individuals forged in peoplehood - "Am Yisrael" - with shared values and a common purpose.
Our goal as the NLN is to benefit each other and, indirectly, our organisations and the community at large, by broadening relationships, helping each other, sharing resources, and learning about and debating issues and opportunities.
We are well aware that there are complexities in the relationship between Orthodox and Progressive Judaism, and that these inform much of how the community is organised and how individuals Jews identify themselves. We're not aiming to address these difficulties, seek reconciliation, or even promote religious plurality. Instead we take a pragmatic view that some things are irreconcilable, but nevertheless we can capitalise on our respective views, commitments and experiences, and use them for the greater good of the community.
In a number of discussion sessions to date, we identified four broad themes and articulated how our values might be reflected in each: Engaging the future generation in Jewish life; Redefining our place in the world; Deepening our network of caring and social justice; and getting the practicalities right.
While God is a subject often avoided in lay communal discourse, we believe that the British Jewish community is in essence a faith community. But whatever our own definitions of our community, we hope that everyone could still be able to be inspired and engaged by our common heritage, traditions and people-hood.
Being pragmatic, we aim to have a modest but material and positive, indirect influence on the overall path of the British Jewish community in the next 20 or so years.
We would like to invite everyone who contributes to significant Jewish organisations in meaningful senior leadership roles; trustees or executives, rabbis, head teachers or philanthropists. Please do join us.