Our communities are the life-blood of UK Jewry. They have the potential to enrich the lives of their members and transform an area into a thriving hub of activity. They can be places of inspiration, education and, friendship. They are run by teams of lay-leaders who provide the impetus to our communities.
Working in partnership with the rabbinic team and professional staff and dedicating their free time to serving the community, synagogue leaders are driven to engage and enthuse the local Jewish people in the area. Take a look at a shul website and beyond religious services you might find baby music groups in Hebrew, interfaith and social action programmes, education centres and even pop-up restaurants. All have been planned by a committed group of volunteers in their free time.
It stands to reason that the more diverse a synagogue’s lay leadership, the richer its offering. We are listening to younger members and non-members, building a forum of younger activists and looking at new leadership roles that allow a range of female – and male – voices to be heard.
The numbers of women leaders within our communities is often discussed. Through my work, I have been lucky enough to meet the many women who are taking the helm in communities.
There has been an increase in women taking up leadership roles across US communities and I am working hard to ensure that continues. This year, 12 of our communities have female chairs.
Of course, I recognise that it’s not easy for women to take on these positions, particularly when work and family commitments can sometimes seem time crippling.
However, the numbers highlight the strides our communities are making while we are also exploring new governance models that allow flexibility and prevents roles within the community becoming all-encompassing.
Don’t write off our synagogue lay leaders as event planners or building managers. Many feel a responsibility to build and sustain Jewish life in their areas. Their vision for the future of their communities, shared with their rabbinic leaders, goes far, far beyond the shul walls.
Our Inspired Jewish Leadership conference this Sunday is designed to support our current leaders and build a pipeline of new lay leaders for our communities. There are no quick fixes. However, the day will serve as a springboard to further leadership development and as a reflection of our commitment to our existing dedicated local leaders
The United Synagogue is changing and it is important that our leaderships are representative and in touch with our communities. With the launch of the US’s new community Innovation Fund, the development of community start-ups in areas of Jewish growth and a renewed focus on local youth provision, these are exciting times.
Jo is head of strategic review implementation at The US