They’re tied in Notts over future of Orthodox synagogue

Disagreements over the way forward are splitting Nottingham Hebrew Congregation


Nottingham Hebrew Congregation has postponed a vote on a constitutional change which some members fear would deprive them of the right to decide its future.

The change has been proposed by trustees of the Orthodox synagogue as they try to preserve its viability in the face of declining numbers.

Earlier this year, the congregation, with fewer than 200 members, moved into smaller premises in a former Methodist church. This followed the sale, for around £800,000, of the Victorian building which had served it for more than 60 years.

Concerns have been raised from within the membership about the future of its long-serving rabbi Moshe Perez.

The trustees want the congregation to become a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO), giving them protection from personal liability similar to that of directors of a limited company.

Objectors say it will give the trustees too much control on key issues at the expense of the voting rights of ordinary members.

A postal vote on the change was to have been held shortly after the AGM in June. This has now been delayed pending consideration of a compromise.

One member of the congregation, Sheldon Cohen, has suggested moving to an “association model” of a CIO rather than a “foundation model”, in order to preserve members’ rights.

Two years ago, the then trustees had favoured joining the United Synagogue to secure the congregation’s future — a path taken by a number of other regional communities.

But the plan was shelved amid objections from members. According to the minutes of the 2016 annual meeting, the US “decided that as there was so much friction within the community, they felt they could not accept us and it was agreed that we would pull out from any further discussion”.

At the same meeting, an incoming trustee, Jeff Davis, reported that the shul had lost around £400,000 over the past five to six years.

According to its most recent accounts, for the year ending December 2016, the congregation netted around £789,000 from the sale of its building, leaving it with assets of over £1.5 million. But if the proceeds from the sale are discounted, spending exceeded income by nearly £57,000 last year. Expenditure of around £150,000 included just over £65,000 for “ministers [sic] wage, travel, admin and housing”.

An anonymous document urging members to vote against the proposal for a CIO ahead of the annual meeting two months ago claimed that trustees had made the role of rabbi redundant. Neither Rabbi Perez nor any representative of the trustees was available for comment this week.

Rabbi Perez was last year presented with a silver salver to mark 25 years of service to the Midlands community at a reception “followed by a sumptuous buffet”, according to the minutes of the 2016 AGM.

“I believe we are blessed to have such a dedicated spiritual leader,” Mr Cohen said this week. “While we are declining in numbers, the respect for and appreciation of him does not change. He is a dear and valued friend to both the current members and many who have left Nottingham.” A proposal has been periodically mooted to open a Jewish community centre in the city which would serve both its Orthodox and Liberal congregations, as well as the large Jewish student population.

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