by Simon Johnson, Chief Executive, Jewish Leadership Council
When the JLC started the Synagogue Vitality Project, I had the privilege of being chairman of my synagogue – Hampstead Garden Suburb. Similar positions as chairs of their shuls were also held by my colleagues Lord Mendelsohn, Ruth Green and Michael Goldstein, all of whom also serve in wider communal leadership roles. It is not a coincidence that our roads to leadership positions have included a time in synagogue leadership.
Shul leaders are in a unique position to influence Jewish life. That is one of the reasons why the JLC commissioned Professor Steven Cohen’s report on Synagogue Vitality, so that his research could clarify our understanding of and appreciation for the most salient features of some of our most vital congregations, how they are created and how they are sustained. This report shows how we can create vital, inclusive communities that will shape British Jewry for years to come.
One key aspect that stands out from this report, perhaps more than any other, is how shul life transcends religious observance. Chesed or ‘human kindness’ is a key area of activity. We will work with our many social care members to ensure that the support given, through shul welfare programmes to thousands of people, are properly connected with the established and expert services which the community provides.
We are all grateful to Professor Cohen and his co-author Michelle Terret for the time and effort they put into this report. Vital synagogues lead to a vibrant community, and we, at the JLC, hope that this report will ensure that this important part of community life continues to grow and flourish.