Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New British Chief Rabbi Needs to Bring Passion & Zionism to Anglo Jewry

Firstly, I apologise to my regular followers for not blogging much over the past 10 days. I am starting a new job (I'll still be broadcasting on Arutz7 and US talk radio as well of course), as a social media marketing director for a firm that specializes in Birthright and Masa groups to Israel. Essentially, we're dedicated to ensuring all young Jews spend significant time here, getting to know the country, and their connection to it.

Chief Rabbi of UK designate, Efraim Mirvis
That opening actually segways into the main content of this musing quite nicely: Yesterday the United Synagogue in Great Britain (the Orthodox movement in UK, which is a little confusing to American Jews, where the United Synagogue there is conservative!) announced its LONG awaited decision on who would be the next chief Rabbi of Britain when the current incumbent Lord Sacks retires next  year. The successful candidate is Rabbi Efraim Mirvis and I wish him mazeltov and hatzlacha on this important post. I know him a little, as I'm a former informal educator with the United Synagogue, and from what I have seen and heard, Rabbi Mirvis is a hard working, dedicated, warm and knowledgeable man, who has done an excellent job in his current post at Kinloss Synagogue in N.London. I'm not going to criticize him here, although I always saw him as the "safe candidate" - a man who won't rock the boat or cause controversy, but at the same time will he be a dynamic and innovative chief rabbi that will set the tone for Anglo Jewry in the 21st century? I have my doubts.

So what does he need to achieve? For me, the primary thing he needs to tackle the critical and growing detachment and even disinterest of young British Jews from Judaism, their community and to a growing extent Israel. If he doesn't, then he'll have failed. The US made steps to standardize and  improve its synagogue youth program over the past 10 years and thats to its credit, but as in its whole history, it hasn't gone far enough. You see, the US sees itself (and always has) as a moderate Orthodox movement - middle of the road - safe. The problem is, the middle of the road is actually not safe at all. In America, the Orthodox Union created NCSY, full on, no apologies experience of orthodox Judaism for young people. Former NCSYers today pack modern Orthodox synagogues across US. I'm not sure the US's Tribe program will have the same dynamic impact in the UK. Middle of the road doesn't inspire passion, and the US has long lacked passion!

I also strongly believe that there is not a long term future for a thriving Jewish community in the UK. Thats why I chose to leave and become Israel four years ago. British Jews need to wake up to that fact: simply to go to school, Jewish kids in London have a level of security that equals the President of Israels home here in Jerusalem. If that's what it takes to keep Jewish children safe in England, then perhaps they don't belong there at all? However it's a big step to leave the country of your birth for Israel, and especially if you are part of that safe, United Synagogue cadre, who's Judaism is hidden behind curtains and only airs publicly a couple of times a year. "We're Jewish and proud" declare Anglo Jews," but not TOO Jewish!!". So Rabbi Mirvis needs to bring passionate Zionism into the United Synagogue, establishing innovative programs to build living bridges between England and Israel. More long term school groups in Israel, studying alongside Israelis, more shlichim (emissaries) in roles in English communities. learning modern Hebrew should be encouraged, subsidized even. Whatever it takes to build living bridges between UK Jews and Israel, bridges that one day those people can walk across to their new home.

What English Jewry doesnt need more of is 'nice' programs, 'safe' zionism, lip service even. Anglo Jewry needs a chief rabbi that understand the future of Jews is in Israel, not England, and who works to build a Jewish identity among young people that is focused on preparing for that move, instilling zionism it as a value alongside Shabbat and Kashrut. Israel can't be just a nice place to visit, donating money isn't being a Zionist either - moving here, living the most Jewish life possible, thats Zionism and thats the Jewish future in the 21st Century - only a Chief Rabbi who understands that will, for my money, be a successful Chief Rabbi! 


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