Britain’s oldest Orthodox community has at last found a senior rabbi after a search that began more than three years ago.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck, 37, of New York, was endorsed as the new rabbinic leader of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation by a massive majority of 270 votes to four in a ballot of its members last week.
Adam Musikant, a member of the executive, said; “I doubt whether in the history of Anglo-Jewry any elected rabbi has had a 98.5 per cent vote.
“He is exceptionally dynamic and a breath of fresh air. He will be a great representative on the ambassadorial stage of our community.”
Rabbi Dweck, who was born in Los Angeles to parents of Syrian roots, has seen his Sephardi congregation, Shaare Shalom, increase from a few dozen members to some 800 over the past 14 years.
He has also been head of a Jewish school for two- to 13-year-olds, Barkai Yeshivah, for four years.
He and his wife Margalit, who is the granddaughter of the world’s leading Sephardi rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, have five children, aged from six to 15.
“I am not going to move my family officially till July 2014. But I will be coming in and out periodically over the next year,” he said, with his next visit likely to be shortly after the High Holy Days.
“I’m looking forward to upholding the traditions of the ‘S and P’ which I have a tremendous respect for,” he added.
The 1,250-strong Spanish and Portuguese community in London offered a unique combination of the warmth and passion of the Sephardi tradition derived from the experience of living in the West for nearly 400 years, he explained.
“To me, it’s an amazing confluence of culture and it creates a unique philosophy, which is a fantastic approach to the world and to Judaism that I’d like to cultivate and to publicise,” he said. “I think the ‘S and P’ approach is one that hasn’t been capitalised upon enough.”
But while “a stickler for history”, he also sees the benefits of new social media.
“Facebook, Twitter, internet communications need to be used, first of all to be able to reach out to the youth in their arena.”
One of his ambitions is to create “a young ambassadors programme, where we’ll have young people from all of the different shuls in the kahal [community] to be able to work with me directly and plan events.
“That will give them an incentive to feel there is something they can do personally to affect the kahal and to have a hand in developing what they’d like to see happen.”
But new media is not only for the youth; he also hopes to use it to “try to create a cohesiveness among the entire community”.
Sephardi leaders began their attempt to recruit a successor to Rabbi Abraham Levy — who retired as spiritual head last July — early in 2010.
But their efforts floundered when their chosen candidate pulled out early last year with the community split and the election result contested. They went back to the drawing board, resuming the search this time for a “senior rabbi” rather than “spiritual head”.
After a week-long visit ahead of the vote, Rabbi Dweck said he and his wife had found “a warm and welcoming community, which was excited about the future”. He added: “I was in the UK during a week when the skies were blue. It was a nice feeling — even though people told me not to get used to it.”