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United crisis continues

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2004-11-07

United Synagogue

United Synagogue

As United Synagogue rabbis contemplate issues such as joining a trade union to represent their interests following a number of job cuts, the US's religious leader, Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks still refuses to be drawn into the current crisis which president Peter Sheldon is attempting to resolve.

“I can’t describe the rabbinate of the United Synagogue as a happy bunch, and that concerns me and my colleagues deeply,” Mr Sheldon was reported as saying in the Jewish Chronicle. "It’s clear we could have done some things better than we have done.”

Some rabbis have spoken out about their concerns about how they are being treated. Last week saw a rabbi and chazan from Ilford Synagogue being told their jobs were being cut and as a result, the rabbi Chaim Rapoport could also be made homeless as his accommodation was provided as part of his job.

Speaking to SomethingJewish, a spokesman for the Chief Rabbi refused to draw Dr Sacks into the current situation. "This has nothing to do with the Chief Rabbi," he said.

But some feel that the Chief Rabbi should intervene, citing that as he is the religious leader of the organisation, he should be more involved in helping to find a solution to the situation rather than leave it to others to sort out.

Last week, SomethingJewish heard from one rabbi saying:

"I just wish Rabbi Sacks would start listening to us and understand the problems we face. How would he feel if he was given three months notice and told to leave his home as well. It's insulting and degrading."

Meanwhile, writing in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle, a former president of The Association of Ministers (Chazanim) of Great Britain, Rev Reuben Turner said:

"The dismissal of the Ilford Synagogue rabbi and chazan has done irreparable damage to the United Synagogue in particular and to Orthodox Jewry in general. The whole concept of Avodat Ha’Kodesh — sacred service — has been desecrated. How can one encourage one’s children or grandchildren even to consider the ministry as a future vocation and career?

Over in Ilford and the surrounding Essex area, rabbis have voiced their concerns.

"Would you rob a ship of its captain or a plane of its pilot?” said Rabbi Alex Chapper of Ilford Federation Synagogue, while Rabbi Arye Sufrin from the Chabad Lubavitch Community Centre in Ilford, pondered if the United Synagogue was giving up on Essex.

Mr Sheldon hit back pointing out they have recently appointed a regional director for the area. He also added, the problem with Ilford is due to a declining membership and a huge financial deficit and  there was no other option other than to cut the rabbi and chazan jobs and combine them as a single new job.