Thursday, 29 October 2015

US Chief Executive‏ Reports on Progress for US Strategic Review, invites comments

The US Strategic Review - Building Vibrant and Engaged Communities at the Forefront of British Jewry – was published in February 2015. Dr Steven Wilson, US Chief Executive‏ has since reported on steering groups which have begun to take some key recommendations forward. Steve is also inviting comments, suggestions or ideas relating to the work of the Strategic Review at

Engaging services: opportunity to consult with the team 
The Strategic Review points out that over 60% of US members said that engaging services were an important factor in choosing to join their synagogue. Yet only 39% of our members say that they are very satisfied that their services are engaging. As the Chief Rabbi, writing recently about our services said: ‘The situation is both profound and urgent but the solution is within our grasp.’ 

Following the session at the HO brunch in the summer the US Living & Learning department is available for a process of consultation with communities, exploring how we might make services more meaningful, accessible and appealing to members. If you are interested in participating, please contact Jo Rose at

Communities of Potential 
A Communities of Potential Board has been formed which has been at work identifying areas of growth, change and decline within existing United Synagogue communities and beyond. The Strategic Review urged The US to adopt a ‘nimble’ approach to the development of its communities.

With this in mind, the Board is tasked with identifying where to invest creatively in new communities - in particular those in areas of Jewish growth - whilst at the same time providing appropriate support so that smaller communities can adapt to their new realities.

I’m also delighted to be able announce that our trustee board has approved a significant redevelopment of the site at Highgate, incorporating more space for community activity as well as upgraded rabbinic accommodation. I would like to thank the local leadership team who have raised necessary funds and worked in partnership with us to reach this point.

Rabbinic Careers and Development 
Great Rabbis and Rebbetzens are vital to our success. We have established a Rabbinic Careers panel which has been tasked with addressing some of the following key issues raised in the review: How do we ensure the US is competitive in the market for recruiting high-quality Rabbis and Rebbetzens? How do we ensure that there is clarity on roles and responsibilities? How do we ensure that all our Rabbis and Rebbetzens have the opportunities to develop professionally? The panel will be making its first set of recommendations in November.

In the meantime, we have assisted communities in making strong recruitments to The US over the last few months. We’re delighted to welcome Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg and his wife, Blima, to Woodford Forest , Rabbi Shmuli Sagal and his wife, Talia (pictured), to Sutton and we are excited to see Rabbi Meir Shindler and his wife, Rina, take up their new posts in Richmond in early 2016.

Engaging the Next Generation 
This year Tribe had the most amazing summer with over 500 young people participating in residential and day programmes in the UK, Europe and Israel. 

The Strategic Review called on the US to prioritise engagement with youth in our communities. Given the importance of this activity, the trustees chose to set up a review of Tribe, entitled ‘The US Future: Engaging the Next Generation’.

Its aim is to evaluate the extent to which Tribe has met its original objectives and to propose clear objectives for future activity. The project is being overseen by a panel of lay leaders and professionals who plan to present a report to Trustees at the start of 2016.

In the meantime, the team at Tribe are running ongoing activities in schools (the recent Tishrei's Got Talent was a hit!) preparing for the Learn 2 Lead programme in Poland in October and are looking ahead to Chanukah on Ice.

Getting our Marriage Process Right 
In partnership with the Office of the Chief Rabbi, we are conducting a review of the marriage process within the United Synagogue. We have been speaking to those involved in all aspects of the marriage process, from authorisation at the OCR through to US membership, as well as to couples who were married recently through the United Synagogue to understand how we could improve their experience.

In particular we have been considering how local communities could benefit from playing a greater role in this area, including in retaining newly married couples as longer-term members.

New Models for Payover 
The ‘payover’ contribution from local shuls to the running of The US is now being looked at by a newly formed working group of shul Financial Representatives. They are investigating possible new models for payover that would allow for greater transparency and longer-term planning.

We are are keen to develop a model that is widely understood to be fair and hope to be able to share our recommendations with communities in the first quarter of 2016. The new model will come into effect in 2017.

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