Here is an interesting Biblical story for anyone who wants to start a breakaway minyan. Korach wants to know who put Moses in charge when he thinks he has every right to do it his way. I won’t spoil the ending – it doesn’t go well.
I was invited, this week, to speak on a panel about independent minyanim – prayer communities defined, among other things, by being outside the centralised structures of Anglo-Jewry. There are a number in the local area as well as elsewhere in Britain and even around the world. It’s the new big thing – attracting the attention of JPR, UJIA and the big American Foundations and Federations. I can’t help but feel ambivalent.
On the one hand, as well as what is now our own Minyan Hadash, I’ve been involved in or at the founding of three other minyanim. I have form when it comes to independent minyanim. I don’t like being told what I can and can’t do Jewishly, I like being part of a community that suits me, my attitude towards religious life, and my attitude towards the ‘world out there’ and when I haven’t found that community, I’ve been more than willing to create it anew. Of course that is something I have that in common with the founder members of New London – we are the original Anglo-independent minyan.
On the other hand I represent institutionalised Judaism buildings, overheads, salaries. Not only do I love it I believe in it. I believe Judaism needs structures and institutions to develop and thrive over time. As indeed has happened at New London. Without the structure – the gravitational mass – Jewish communal life can too easily drift away.
There is a balance to be struck. Too much institution-for-the-sake-of institution and one can lose sense of purpose, meaning and – and we are a Synagogue – a connection to the Divine. Too much freedom from standards, having to put up with the uncomfortable presence of other people, too much homogeneity of expression, one can easily become an irrelevance, temporary and without definition.
I want in my sermon this week to look ‘out there’ across the Jewish world, and beyond, at some of what I see as the exciting new and not so new developments in religious institutions. What models are there that can assist us in our next 50 years. What can we learn, where should be going.
And next week, in the week before our AGM, I want to look at us and in particular our last year – a State of the Synagogue address – and I also want to give us the chance to speak and share our thoughts on what works and what doesn’t work at New London, not only on a mundane level, but in terms of our purpose, values and vision. I’ve been drawn onto the political stage too often in recent weeks and months. This is a good time to consider our community, our future and our path.
I hope you will be able to join me.