Maybe it is because I am a Northerner and spent my first 18 years living in Prestwich, Manchester and am (for reasons not material to this article) a dedicated Leeds United supporter, that I am particularly sensitive to the perception that the JLC, and indeed most communal institutions, are London-centric.
I recently took a four day visit to Manchester, meeting with community institutions and leaders, and I attended the Manchester Day Limmud. I did not need reminding of the vibrancy of the Manchester community and how easily one can gain the feeling, if one lives in a provincial community, that the focus of all of the community’s activity is in London.
A certain amount of focus on London is inevitable in our community. Firstly, the vast majority of the Jewish community lives in London and the South East. Secondly, the Parliament and seat of Government is in London, and so communal institutions which seek to engage in political discourse, tend to be based in London. However, crucially, London is the only city in England to have a Mayor with significantly devolved powers. Had cities like Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham also elected Mayors with devolved powers, then I am sure that community institutions would have had to put in place regional structures to reflect a devolved political power. As it is, London is where the institutions are based.
However, it is easy to be lulled into looking only to London when devising strategy and it is here that our obligation as community leaders is to look widely around the country when identifying and proposing solutions to strategic challenges. I did not need a visit to Manchester to realise that. So, when we were selecting the 6 synagogues to form the basis of the Synagogue Vitality project, discussed elsewhere in this newsletter, I made sure that two of them were from Northern communities – Menorah Synagogue in Manchester and Beth Hamedrash Hagadol in Leeds. My visits to the Manchester Jewish Representative Council, to an interfaith dialogue meeting, to The Fed’s impressive home at Heathlands and participating in Manchester Limmud enabled me to see first-hand the need to “look north” when we are planning our strategy.
So, I will visit Leeds in April and try to get myself to other communities before too long.
If nothing else, looking to the north in our work and getting out of London occasionally also gives me an excuse to stay with my Mum in Prestwich – and that has to be an advantage!