> The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom
The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom




Ben Rich is the Chief Executive of the Reform Movement and many of us met him at our 20th Anniversary celebrations earlier in the year.

Perhaps foolishly, in January this year, I declared my 'New Year Resolutions'. The risk of marking the secular New Year in this way is that alcohol-fuelled bravado clouds one's judgment. Maybe that's why we Jews save our resolutions for the Days of Awe and seal them with a fast. Instead, maybe now is the right moment to take stock and seize the opportunity to repent any sins and committed ourselves afresh to the challenge. So how are we progressing towards achieving those original resolutions?

1. Complete and start to implement the Movement's Strategic Review

The Movement's Strategic Review was completed in June with the unanimous approval of the 2013-15 plan by the Annual General Meeting. Cleverly, this has brought us six months to whip the organisation into shape before we have to start the hard work of meeting the paper's 54 SMART deliverables (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) by the end of next year. Still, there is much work to do: restructuring the organisation to align with the plan's six strategic priorities, agreeing a budget and finalising a new operating plan. We've made a good start but there is still more to do before we can tick this box.

2. Launch a Reform Haggadah in time for this year's Pesach

I am delighted to say that this is not the case for our second resolution. The first ever Movement-wide Haggadah - Haggadateinu - was published just in time for Pesach 5772. Over a thousand copies of the pilot were distributed and used at around a dozen communal sederim and a score of family ones. And while inevitably there is more work to be done before the final version goes on sale next year, feedback was positive and the fact of publication after almost twenty years of wait was universally welcomed.

3. Develop the profile of Reform Judaism with our new Movement Rabbi

What a delight it is to work with Rabbi Laura! She is a vibrant, intelligent and compassionate voice not just for Judaism but for many with and without faith in this country. I find that, these days, the weeks when I don't hear Laura on the radio, see her on the television or read her thoughts in the JC are rare exceptions, while a mere eight months into her post there are only a handful of our communities that she is yet to visit.

4. Continue to grow our youth movement

At the turn of the year, I said that the measure of success for RSY-Netzer would be more Reform youngsters attending more Reform camps and tours in 2012. Our Israel Tour numbers are indeed up once again, from 178 in 2011 to 187 in 2012 as we continue to deliver a positive experience for the participants and a reassuring one for their parents. While, in common with every other youth movement - hit by the double-whammy of recession and the Olympics - numbers on Shemesh are down on 2011, this has been largely offset by the growth of day camp. Introduced in 2010 for 5-11 year olds, we are now running day camps in London and Manchester, with 81% increase in numbers from the previous year.

5. Support our young adults and students

Implementation of our young adults and students programme was somewhat delayed by the departure in March of Youth Director, Jude Williams, to become Chief Executive of Tzedek. Despite this, in May, we hosted our first Student Life seminar to help would-be students plan for university. In June, we appointed Libby Burkeman - a graduate of RSY-Netzer - as our first Informal Education Director and, together with our new Jeneration Fieldworker, Deborah Blausten, an exciting programme is being put together for 2012 freshers. Meantime, we have run a number of seminars and events for mixed-faith couples and are looking to do more over the next six months. So I believe we are on track and hope to have more to report by the end of the calendar year.

6. Take seriously cross-communal organisations such as the Board of Deputies

What could be more serious than electing the first Reform Vice-President of the Board for more than a decade, and securing around a third of all the places on the Reform divisional committees for progressively-minded deputies? A major success.

7. Be effective advocates for Progressive Zionism

It is always challenging to speak out on Israel's behalf with a unique progressive voice. Nonetheless, we have not allowed our voice to be muted whether it is celebrating the Supreme Court decision to allow state funding for non-Orthodox rabbis or challenging those who would seek to present Israel as cast in the image of Avigdor Lieberman.

8. Make a difference in the wider community

This should be a defining characteristic of Progressive Judaism. We celebrate the work of communities such as Finchley and Wimbledon which have hosted homeless shelters in the past year or West London, which is actively supporting refugees.

The responsibility of the Movement in this respect is to share best practice and up-skill our communities to deliver change effectively. For this reason I believe our decision in July to jointly appoint - together with the Liberals and Masorti - a Community Organiser to work with Jewish communities is amongst the most important of 2012 so far. The post holder will work with synagogues to help them achieve real change both within their own communities and in the world beyond.

9. Remember why the MRJ exists

By the measure set out in my New Year resolutions - that every Reform community be represented at Chagigah 2012 - we failed. And yet, it is hard to consider this a failure: the largest biennial conference for a decade attended by representatives of three quarters of our communities. What's more, the conference approved a strategic plan which places communities at the heart of everything we do and will see the MRJ refocusing its resources on helping communities develop and thrive. There is more to do, but we have made a good start.

10. Remember for whom we toil

It is telling that the most popular sessions at Chagigah were those which saw us pilot our new education programme, L'Chaim, which is designed to help members explore Reform Jewish values. You will be relieved that I do not expect to resolve the challenges of progressive halachah or conclude the search for God in 2012, but nor shall we desist from the journey.

I wish you all ShanahTovah.


Ne've Shalom
Great Gutter Lane
HU10 6DP



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