As a communal leader in Stamford Hill, I often hear how “we must work together with different faith groups,” but it saddens me to say that I think our issue is more immediate: we in fact need to work together within the Jewish faith.
Yes, we look after each other, but the gap between the strictly Orthodox community and the modern or secular community your paper typically appeals to is far too big. That needs to change, and I hope to help do so. It shouldn’t matter whether a Jew wears Chasidic dress or dresses in a more modern style; in our hearts we are all Jewish and all believe in the same values. As Jews we must be one and only one.
Already, there are small breakthroughs. In November we at the Jewish Community Council, which I founded four years ago, welcomed Jonathan Goldstein, the new chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council. His visit was welcome, and rare.
Most secular Jewish organisations have, in the past, struggled to access the Charedi world. We at the JCC want to increase access and also understanding. We want to build links and relations between these two sometimes different worlds, centred not far apart, in Hackney and Barnet. In short we want to build a bridge where others failed. Let’s call it a unity bridge.
I recognise that talking in lofty terms about uniting as a Jewish community is high in merit but low in use, so perhaps I can be more specific. It means working together on issues that concern us all, such as delays with the coroner service. It means sharing best practice in our best respective organisations, which can only come about through observation and exposure, inviting one another ‘in’. It means having an adult debate about things on which we disagree, such as ‘point of death’ for organ donation, but more importantly, it means working to find a common position where one can be found. And it means helping our respective communities to better understand one another. To this end, we at the JCC will be working with Jewish News over the next few months to introduce your readers to the wonders of Stamford Hill.
Uniting means all of these things, but more than anything, it means leading. I founded the JCC in part to encourage the next generation of strictly Orthodox leaders to get up, get involved, take the platform and start leading. In just four years we’ve done a lot, whether it be setting up organisations that fast-track medical scanning and treatment for Crohns and Colitis sufferers, establishing a hospital-community volunteer network, working with the council to build hundreds of affordable new kosher-friendly homes, or even arranging pre-Passover rubbish and recycling collections. Collectively, in our meetings with local and national politicians, it is our voice now being heard, and as young Charedi leaders we are developing our skills of representation all the time.
But there is so much room for cooperation with our Jewish neighbours. For instance, we know there are leadership development programmes in the secular Jewish world, such as those run by LEAD, a division of the JLC. Does it not seem sensible that young Charedi leaders and young secular leaders create a new forum to meet and discuss the challenges of the future? Such a forum – let’s call it the Young Leadership Initiative (YLI) – would be where the next generation leaders across our two worlds would meet, get to know one another and work together. Doing so would, in itself, help bridge the divide.
Likewise, umbrella bodies in the secular world should start to approach us to ask for Charedi representation on their boards, and we in turn can start to reciprocate. These baby steps can open up new worlds. They are practical ways to bridge the gulf between us. But however we choose to do it, change will not come about by us agreeing that there are differences, nodding and carrying on.
Let us make 2018 the year we found excuses to work together, rather than not to work together. Let 2018 be the year we all discussed, in our various board meetings and community catch-ups, how we could better appeal to every Jew in London, not just those like us. We in Stamford Hill stand ready to welcome this. We feel we have a lot to offer, and hope that the secular world will be positively surprised by what we are doing, both in terms of its scope and innovation.
Stay tuned to Jewish News to find out what we do and how.