Chair's Message: December 2014

We were delighted this month to welcome Kisharon and The Fed in Manchester as new members of the JLC, further strengthening our representative position in the social care sector.

It comes as we look ahead to the challenges that the JLC and its members should address now as we prepare for the next generation of the UK Jewish community.

We had a discussion recently at which colleagues offered a view that a key objective of the JLC should be to ensure the on-going viability of a mainstream, centrist Jewish community in the UK in the next generation. The latest demographics of the Community, published last year by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, suggest that the community is in a process of divergence at the moment.

On the one hand, there are growing strictly Orthodox communities, which by their very nature act outside the mainstream and which I think can be said to define their Jewish identity almost exclusively through the prism of our religion and their religious observance. They are vibrant communities in their own right but they do present challenges on education and welfare which impact the broader Community and also, because they are separate, it is only in the rare exceptional cases that there is a joining with the mainstream.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are secular Jews who, in the main, define their Jewish identity through a commitment to Jewish culture and through a secular Zionist connection to Israel. This group of people have been particularly challenged by the events of this past summer when Jewish culture and the role of Zionism in Jewish identity were threatened by the increase in Anti-Semitism and discriminatory anti-Israel and in some respects anti-Jewish boycott activity. I do not think that it is controversial to say that it is from this group that we have the greatest danger of separation from the Jewish people.

We need to preserve a centrist, mainstream community who simultaneously focus on religious observance/affiliation, Jewish values, Zionism and Jewish culture as a basis for their Jewish identity and the Jewish legacy that they create for succeeding generations.  This is a challenge which we are already trying to address with our Synagogue Vitality project, our report on Informal Provision for Young People, and our strategy to protect Jewish identity against the threats from anti-Semitism and BDS activity.

Our forthcoming event, Chanukah in the Square is, in this context, a perfect event to unite all Jews, across all strands of thought within the community. The festival of Chanukah brings all strands together- those who celebrate the religious element, those who recognise the strong Zionist theme of the Maccabean dream of a free People living in their own Land and those for whom the symbols of the festival- the Chanukiah, the lights, the doughnuts and the music, represent an important cultural connection to their Jewish roots and identity.

On the first night of Chanukah, Tuesday 16th December, I invite all sectors of the community and beyond to join us for a celebration, in the heart of Central London, of our Jewish religion, culture and symbols and let the huge Menorah in Trafalgar Square signal our collective commitment not only to the public expression of the Chanukiah but also to our Community’s place in Britain.