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Community changes

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2005-02-06

Time to unite the Jewish community

Unity is needed

The Sunday Times recently took a look at those who are trying to combat the growing trend of marrying out by bringing people back into the Jewish community in the hope they will find someone Jewish to meet and fall in love with.

In the piece, writer David Rowan observed:
Intermarriage is on the rise. Unless that changes, community leaders fear, Anglo-Jewry could be imperilling its future. It is now 11 years since the chief rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, warned that “the Jewish people, having survived for thousands of years in the most adverse circumstances, including the Holocaust, is today threatened by intermarriage and assimilation". Sacks’s warning prompted a range of cultural and educational initiatives designed to instil Jewish pride in young singles. Yet the intermarriage graph kept climbing, with around half of British Jews marrying “out".
Overall an interesting piece, but the article fails to address some major issues which contribute to the decline in Jewish people being interested in their own community and why they tend to shy away from it. These include:
1. The community in the UK fails to put on events and social activities these days. A glance at the Jewish Chronicle even 5 or 10 years ago would have shown a number of events on its classified pages. These days you are lucky to see one or two events a month. You need to market to the community and put on things for them to go to. You also need to make events affordable and easy for people to access. Too many events in the past have been money driven without much care as to how people can pay.
2. For every Jew who marries out or doesn't have any interest in their faith or culture, there are many more non-Jews who are eager and very interested to convert to being a member of the tribe.  Alas, as a community we are not as welcoming to converts as we could be.   After all, some famous converts have been the foundation of Judaism.  Look at Ruth.   They even named a book after her!
3. We don't promote being Jewish. While there are plenty of negative stories and issues that affect the Jewish community, there are plenty of positive things going on. We need to start focusing on the positive and highlight all the good things associated with being Jewish. If we are not proud of our own community and people, who will be proud of us?
4.  We assume too much and don't listen. The British Jewish community needs to look at itself objectively and listen to what Jewish people are thinking. What are there needs, both social and personal and indeed how they feel they fit into British society in general.
5. There is too much intercommunal fighting and backstabbing. Yes, I am saying it, far too many Jewish groups and organisations not wanting to work with each other and help each other. They would rather work in isolation then team up with others.  The result, people see Jewish groups and organisations fighting. Wouldn't it be good to see Orthodox Jews, Reform, Liberal and even secular be able to share a same platform and unite together on issues of joint concern?
6. Jewish community only seems to want you if they can get some money out of you. How many times have Jewish groups and organisations contacted you when they want a donation?  How many times have they contacted you if you have not been to involved for a long time? I bet it is more likely you get a phonecall when there is some sort of appeal going on, rather than a general update on how things are.
7. Jewish role models. Who are they? Who do young Jews look up to with admiration and respect in the community?
8. We start projects and never seem to finish them. When Jonathan Sacks became Chief Rabbi in 1991 he talked much about what he would be doing, but has really failed to deliver and indeed unite the community. This was to be "decade of renewal", well, in the decade and a few years after he took on the role, the community has undergone a decline. Projects have fizzled out and time and money wasted that could have been used better.
If we can start addressing these eight issues, it will be a start.
The UK Jewish community can once again be a strong and vibrant community, but only if we begin the process while involves listening, respecting the diversity of Jews and building bridges by working together.