For the first time ever in South London, a United Synagogue Council meeting was held at Sutton & District Synagogue on Monday 21 March. The meeting was chaired by the President of the United Synagogue, Dr Simon Hochhauser, and attended by all of the United Synagogue trustees, together with members of the professional team including the Chief Executive Jeremy Jacobs who davened Ma’ariv at the conclusion of the meeting. Council members for Sutton are Gillian Bloch and myself, and we were joined by representatives from synagogues as far apart as St. Albans, Welwyn Garden City, Pinner, Clayhall, and New West End as well as those south of the Thames: Catford, Kingston, Richmond and Staines. We were also delighted to welcome Jess Green, our Administrator, who attended as an observer.
Council meetings take place quarterly at different synagogues, and are designed for briefing and discussion between the U.S. trustees and Council members representing synagogue membership at large. Monday’s meeting opened with an instructive D’var Torah given by our minister Rev Meir Lev which drew on the story of Purim and was much appreciated by the Council members. The atmosphere throughout the evening was vibrant and friendly, and many thanked us for the welcome they received - pointing out that ours was one of the most beautiful synagogues they had visited.
Our Vice Chairman Rica Infante had a discussion beforehand with Stephen Pack, Vice President of the United Synagogue where they covered many issues, including attempts the U.S. will be making to reach out to unaffiliated Jews as well as to the youth through social media networks and with the help of Tribe. Mr. Pack pointed out that many North London as well as South London synagogues are experiencing diminished Shabbat attendances. Synagogue leaders must never lose hope in the face of adversity: we must continue to set our visions high and inspire our members with our hard work. The U.S. is very supportive of the efforts that Sutton is making to keep our synagogue vibrant and attractive despite declining demographics in the South London area, and in turn we have established an ongoing dialogue with their community and marketing executives to keep them aware of the initiatives that we undertake. My thanks to Rica and to Jennifer Hunter for organising the catering of this event, and to Rica for the warm welcome she offered to our visitors.