Jews in decline: `We're losing the young' because we fail to reach out'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LAWRENCE GORSDEN, a kosher baker and synagogue warden, had no doubts about the reason for the fall in the number of Jewish families living in the suburbs of Leeds. The rabbis, he said, were failing to reach out to them.

"They are not doing their job correctly," he said as he prepared dough for the sabbath.

"It is an easy get-out to blame the problem on assimilation and inter- marriage. We have three ministers in Leeds and they are not going out to the fringes of the community and welcoming new faces."

Mr Gorsden, 59, who was born in Leeds, was not surprised by the news that the number of Jewish people in Britain had fallen below 300,000 for the first time since the turn of the century, according to figures released by Board of Deputies of British Jews.

In Leeds, numbers have fallen by 17 per cent from 12,000 to 10,000. Mr Gorsden, a baker for 20 years in the Moortown area of the city, can see the drift away in population reflected in sales of his bread.

"This time 10 years ago I was selling 5,000 loaves of bread; now it is about 2,500. It is nothing to do with assimilation or low birth rate, it is the inability to bring families into the community.

"We have discussed this problem at our own synagogue, the United Hebrew Congregation, and now any stranger who comes in is made welcome immediately. We have now got 12 new families who are members."

People, he added, were also moving away to places like London because it had more to offer. "We do not for example have a Jewish high school. The parents may stay but the young people will move away."

Peter Myers, owner of a kosher delicatessen, said many families were now making their lives in Israel or the US. He need only scan his books of customer accounts over the last 10 years to see how many families have left.

"Of course, it is a cause for concern," he said. "Many of the young people go away to university and then just disappear. Families move away because there is no high school, although there is a move to set one up."

Dr Anthony Gilbert, registrar of the Rabbinical Courts (Beth Din) said he did not believe the figures were accurate because they were based only on membership of Jewish burial societies and not all Jews belonged to them.

He added: "They don't take into account the numbers scattered outside the main areas of the Jewish population in Leeds. We know they are there because of the response to advertisements for events such as Passover."

It is mainly areas outside London, such as Leeds and Glasgow, which have suffered the greatest decline - with British Jewry concentrated in the capital more than ever before, according to the figures.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research gave the reasons as assimilation, a low birth rate, inter-marriage and people no longer formally identifying themselves with the religion by joining organisations where they would be counted as Jews.