Another year has come and gone; on a national level, this past year has not been our best. Conflict, deprivation and division continue to play huge roles, not just many miles away, but also right on our doorstep. It might be hard to see initially what there might be to celebrate about the past year, but we simply cannot succumb to cynicism. If there is one thing for sure we can celebrate about the year just gone, it is our resilience.
Some of the most memorable and uplifting events of the year have come against negative backdrops as our community, our nation and our world have proven time after time that we have tremendous reserves of resilience. It is at times where we need strength that community takes on a new level of importance. As we say as we reach the end of reading each book of Torah: we are strong and we strengthen one another – chazak v’nitchazek.
Each of us is lucky to be part of a community which strengthens us, supports us and gives us meaning. Across the country, Reform Judaism is connecting people to our spirituality and to each other. We too have shown great resilience and reason for positivity and celebration as we face the year ahead. The recent Jewish Policy Research report which caused much concern across the UK Jewish community with its findings that Jews are increasingly leaving synagogue communities behind also showed the stability and strength of Reform Judaism. We are bucking the trend and remaining steady against the tides of decline of the non-Haredi community.
Together, we form a national community worthy of celebration.
We should celebrate the many amazing indicators that our community has a very bright future ahead. I am privileged to have the opportunity to travel around Britain, seeing for myself the vibrancy of Reform Judaism in every corner of the country. Everywhere I go, there are synagogue communities doing amazing work: spreading learning, caring for one another and inspiring the next generation in the chain of tradition. It’s a great joy to work in partnerships with synagogues to enable our national movement to thrive. In every place, I see the same willingness to evolve and strive to do even better.
Our overall success as a movement is a product of that desire to never stand still, that belief that there is always more that we can do to bring our Judaism to life. In the year ahead, our movement is ready to do even more.
What can you expect from us in the year ahead? We’re bringing on-board new staff to help deliver in some key areas of importance during the year ahead. Already we have our ground-breaking young person’s mental health and wellbeing officer, an invaluable support in an area which has become ever more important with the sharp increase of mental ill-health among our young people. We are also adding a new Young Adult Worker and Student Chaplain to help boost provision for students and young adults seeking their own meaningful path to connect with Judaism, in our existing congregations and meeting them where they are. Ensuring there is a route for our 18-35 year olds to find their place in our communities is vital to maintaining our stability as a movement long into the future.
Strengthening our nation-wide community and every individual community within it remains our top priority. We have launched the process of forming a Covenant which will link together our communities, clergy and professional staff, articulating and defining what it means for all of us to be part of one national movement. The process of shaping a document for consultation this will take place throughout the year, leading to our biennial Chagigah in 2018. The principles of covenantal relationship and duty to one another are core principles we hold as Jews – it is only right we make them a core part of our Reform Judaism. Our initiatives to strengthen communities will continue, including a new initiative to be launched focussing on maintaining financial resilience in our communities.
As a new year is upon us, we consider our deeds from the past year and carry out some cheshbon nefesh – a personal accounting. There will always be more we can and will do, but we should look back and be proud of the resilient and vibrant community we have built together. I pray that 5778 will only be sweet, calm and creative year. Shana Tova U’Metukah.