Ask the Rabbi – 02/10/2013

Ask the Rabbi – 02/10/2013

Dear Rabbi,

Everyone is raving about the new Jewish community centre JW3. I can think of so many better ways to spend £50million. Is there any point or purpose to this centre? Will Jews really make use of it? Do they need it when there are so many other social facilities and synagogues?



Dear Doreen,

You’re not alone in your thinking. There are several communal leaders who are lauding the launch of JW3 but are really thinking: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

A few years ago, when the project was shelved during the peak of the credit crunch, some of these same leaders were relieved that such an astronomical sum of money wasn’t going to be spent on one building with presumed limited appeal. In the words of one back then: “Thank God it fell through. Do you have any idea what could be done with that money?”

You will find articles written by me dating back long before Dame Vivien Duffield conceived the idea of a community centre, discussing the merits of such a venue. I have often lamented the lack of a proper centre in London and how it reflects, sadly, on the lack of real Jewish dynamism in this country.

There are numerous states in America, with Jewish populations a tenth the size of London that have had magnificent community centres in place for years. In my home town of Toronto, there is an edifice five times the size of JW3, which was open before I was born, when the Jewish population was half the size as that of London today.

So, yes, a JCC is an integral cog in the engine that keeps a Jewish community running on all cylinders. That said, I do wonder after the novelty wears off, will it be as widely used as anticipated? Or, to put the question differently: “Is this too much, too late?”

The Jewish community has shrunk in size. Considering birth and assimilation rates, I do wonder whether it will be the same sort of focal point centres are in other parts of the world.

Why now? Why not 20 years ago, when it might have done more to stem the decline, and cost half the money? And if it wasn’t right then, what makes it more viable today? I guess only time will tell.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

Do you support Spurs fans in their determination to chant the word ‘Yiddo’ at football matches?



Dear Laurence,

This debate really kicked off again after David Cameron weighed in. It is precisely because it is such a sensitive subject with arguments that go either way that the PM should not have commented.

In my Twitter exchange with comedian and TV presenter David Baddiel, I was referred to his Guardian article in which he traces the origins of the term Yiddo and demonstrates its implicit anti-Semitic undertones.

I acknowledged his point but asked simply: “So why now?”

If it is really such a bigoted and offensive term, why wasn’t he beating the drum against such so-called bigotry when he
was attending matches 20 years ago? I’m still waiting for him to get back to me on that.

But isn’t that really the point? It’s only because the FA is making such a tzimmes out of it that everyone is getting hypersensitive and jumping on the politically correct bandwagon.

I don’t buy the argument that it’ll foster anti-Semitism off the pitch. I think any racist opportunist will find something to say, regardless.

I appreciate the FA is looking for a blanket ban on all racism, so it must enter into grey areas too in order to stamp it out, nevertheless I’ve met many Jews who go to Spurs matches and are perfectly comfortable with it – some even chime in.

Words and phrases must be seen in context. Yiddo said on the street may be intended as a slur. In the Spurs stadium it is engrained in the team’s legacy as a rallying call. And you and I know that the Yid Army needs all the rallying it can get.[divider]

Dear Rabbi

As a staunch opponent of Limmud, how do you feel about the new Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, attending this year?



Dear Sophie

Opponent? Me? Three years ago I attended Limmud, not just in my capacity as rabbi but, in fact, as the then chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue – the only sitting chairman to have done so. I am delighted to see that Chief Rabbi Mirvis is following in example.

I was so impressed to see so many of the younger generation there. But more than that, an overwhelming majority of them were from United Synagogue communities.

How can it then be right that none of their own rabbis are on hand to educate them?

It is high time people crawled out of their boxes and looked at the bigger picture. I get that we don’t want to blur the lines between Orthodox and other denominations. But I also believe we have to know where and when to draw those lines.

Limmud is not one of those places.

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