United Synagogue presidential candidates make final appeal to voters

Russell Kett and Michael Goldstein offer their differing visions for the US


The two candidates for the United Synagogue presidency have made a final pitch to voters, one highlighting his outsider status, the other advocating “outside-the-box” thinking.

US Council members will cast their ballots for the new president — and trustee positions — on Monday.

Russell Kett, 64, has served as a US vice-president and trustee. His opponent, 54-year-old Michael Goldstein, served Mill Hill Synagogue as vice-chairman and chairman, overseeing a growth in membership.

Mr Kett, a hotel consultant, preaches “evolution rather than revolution” and is keen to explore new ways of attracting members and maintaining funding levels.

“Why don’t we look at having a United Synagogue credit card, where members can apply for additional benefits? And through that, a certain proportion of purchases finds its way back to the United Synagogue. Some credit cards have a cash-back scheme — it’s like that. 

“Some of our members are shomrei Shabbos, so we could look at getting [car] insurers to insure them for six days a week instead of seven, because they won’t be driving on Saturdays. That would be a benefit of membership.

“These are just ideas to explore. If they work, they work. But we need to look at how we can make the US a little bit more relevant.”

Mr Kett — who has been married to Melinda for 39 years and has two sons —has also served on the London Board for Shechita and as a JFS governor.

He further wants to appeal to age groups which are under-represented in shuls, particularly millennials, those born between the mid-80s and late 90s.

“We need to invest and look at our PR and communications to speak to millennials the way they want to be spoken to.”

Mr Goldstein, chief executive of a large private property company, promotes himself as “the change candidate. I am the guy who will come in with a fresh pair of eyes.”

Among his pledges is to standardise the role women play within the US. “We must ensure that all those areas where there are currently inconsistencies, like differing forms of batmitzvah celebration and women’s education initiatives, are practised consistently across our communities.”

He added that while respecting the Chief Rabbi’s ruling on partnership minyanim, he wanted to encourage women to play the fullest possible role in US life. Both candidates have said they would like to see a female candidate on the next presidential ballot in four years’ time.

Mr Goldstein — who chaired the JW3 community centre for four years — also wants to explore the idea of larger shuls merging with smaller ones to cut administrative costs and provide financial support. “In certain areas, like Hertfordshire, we could look at these arrangements. It would make the leadership of smaller synagogues feel less isolated.”

Married to Lara, Mr Goldstein has four daughters, aged between 17 and 24, and lives in Mill Hill. 

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