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‘Historic day’ as ELELS fully includes non-Jews

The members of East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue (ELELS) have voted overwhelmingly to offer full membership to any non-Jewish person who commits to the principles and values of the community.

Both ELELS as a synagogue, and Progressive Judaism as a whole, have long welcomed mixed faith couples and families, as well as those considering conversion but not yet ready to commit.

However, in the past non-Jews – including those raising a Jewish family with a Jewish partner – could only join as an ‘associate member’ or ‘friend’.

Now, in what Rabbi Richard Jacobi (pictured) described as “a historic day for our synagogue and for equality”, ELELS has become the latest Progressive community to equalise its membership.

A passionate EGM heard from many Jewish members with non-Jewish spouses. They spoke movingly about how, despite being warmly welcomed on a personal level, the old categories – and the restrictions they placed on full involvement in communal life – had caused pain and hurt.

It was also noted that many people took several years of associating with the community to feel ready to commit to conversion and that the current policy left some of them feeling like outsiders or no longer wishing to be members.

The changes were proposed after a working group reported on its year-long consultation with members, examination of the principles of Liberal/Progressive Judaism, and research into how other Progressive communities operate, both in the UK and around the world.

Rabbi Richard Jacobi said: “From these discussions, it was evident that a clear majority of members considered the ‘Friend’ category problematic. “As well as being described as ‘taxation without representation’, the membership rules were felt by most to be an obstacle to families or individuals joining our community, and also not in line with our Progressive Jewish values of inclusion and equality.

“This change means our community can now fully include everyone, and they in turn can become fully involved in our community – giving Judaism a key role in their lives and the lives of their families.”

Both Jews and non-Jews wishing to join ELELS can now do so, subject to Council approval, where they subscribe to the principles and objects of the synagogue and the movement.

Full non-Jewish members will be entitled to vote, eligible for election to Council and can hold any office within the synagogue with the exceptions of the posts of Chair, Vice Chair and Chair of the committee responsible for ritual matters.

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