‘Long time coming’ but United Synagogue finally has a chairwoman


The woman who has made history by becoming the first chairwoman of a United Synagogue shul says she has no great desire for power and is simply looking forward to doing the job.

Karen Appleby was elected unanimously and unopposed at St Albans Synagogue’s AGM on Sunday.

The move came as a result of last December’s landmark ruling by the Chief Rabbi permitting women to take the role for the first time.

In standing for office, Mrs Appleby said she had no particular thought of breaking new ground. “I had been vice-chair for several years and once our former chairman said he was standing down, it was a natural progression. I have no great personal desire for power within the community. There was simply a job to do, and people seem to think I’m the one to do it.”

She recognised the election of women chairwomen was “a big issue” for the US, but said she preferred to focus on the concerns facing St Albans, “the most pressing of these, is, of course, finding a rabbi”.

Professing herself to be thrilled that women were starting to be represented at the higher levels of synagogue communities, she added: “This has been a long time coming. It is a great honour to become the first woman to be elected as chair of a US shul, but I have no doubt that, over the coming month and years, many more women will start to rise within the ranks of the lay leadership.

“In the end, it is nothing to do with gender but rather with competence, and whether or not you can do the required job well.”

She noted that many women had felt increasingly disenfranchised within the US. “So while this is a big step forward, we are not quite there yet, and we need to ensure that women have a stronger voice,” she said.

However, Mrs Appleby insisted that she had no desire to take a role in running the synagogue’s services.

“There are some women who want to take a more prominent part not just in running the shul but also in shul services. I am definitely not among their number. This would change the whole ethos of the United Synagogue, and is not something I feel that US women should want to do.”

Born in London and brought up in Westcliff, Essex, Mrs Appleby is currently the administrator of a small computer company. She is married and has two grown-up sons and one grandchild.

She has always been involved with Jewish organisations, either socially or professionally, having worked for both Maccabi and the Hebrew University, as well as for World Jewish Relief as an event organiser.

At least four other women are standing as chairs at US synagogues in elections that are scheduled to take place throughout the month.

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