Reform Judaism’s flagship shul West London Synagogue has suspended its membership to the movement in the wake of “recent events.”
The extraordinary decision comes after the community’s rabbi David Mitchell, 40, agreed last month to take time away from the shul over bullying allegations.
Rabbi Mitchell, who denies accusations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour, is set to replace Julia Neuberger as senior rabbi when she retires in March.
West London Synagogue chair Mark Fox and member Madeline Young have stepped down as trustees of Reform Judaism.
“We regret having to take this decision but have done so in order that we – as a synagogue and independent charity – can focus our attention on the recent events at West London without external distractions or pressures,” read a letter from the community’s president and board to the movement on Thursday.
“We, as the synagogue’s leadership, are handling these internal matters in a sensitive and responsible way, in line with our own governance code and our community’s values,” it said about the allegations.
Rabbi Mitchell’s decision to take time away from the shul “coincides with an independent review, instigated by the board, relating to complaints received by the synagogue following the announcement of Rabbi Julia’s successors as co-senior rabbi.”
“These complaints are being taken extremely seriously and, as is right and proper, a formal and impartial process has now been put in place to consider the issues raised,” the letter states.
The letter criticises previous statements made by Reform Judaism in December and January “about matters relating to our synagogue without consultation.”
“It is vitally important that we are able to deal with this matter in way that is independent of conversations happening in the community around new codes of ethics, conversations which we believe to be unconnected and unhelpful to our particular situation,” the letter states.
Reform Judaism pledged last month to roll out new guidelines across the movement and cited concerns about media reports of “safeguarding and employment practices at West London Synagogue.”
A statement from the Reform Judaism board of trustees on Friday read: “Our mission is to support all Reform Judaism communities and we are committed to a unified and growing national Reform Jewish movement.
“We are therefore disappointed that the President and Board of West London Synagogue, a constituent member of Reform Judaism, have stated their intention to suspend the synagogue’s membership. We are giving our full attention to a considered and proper response directly to the community.”