NEW YORK (Feb. 3)
Great Britain’s largest Reform congregation will soon have an American at its helm.
Mark Winer, 55, will be taking over the 2,400-family pulpit of the West London Synagogue as senior rabbi later this month, though on a part-time basis until the synagogue officially approves his appointment in June.
He is succeeding the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn, who was the well-known standard- bearer for Reform Judaism in Great Britain. Gryn died in August 1996.
Controversy surrounding Gryn’s death underscores the deep rift between Reform and Orthodox Jews in Great Britain — a rift that many believe is worse than the one in America.
Britain’s chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, who is Orthodox, had refused to attend Gryn’s funeral.
Later, Sacks wrote a letter saying he would eulogize Gryn in a memorial service as a Holocaust survivor, not as a Reform rabbi. The letter, sent to the head of an Orthodox organization, was leaked to the London Jewish Chronicle, which published the letter.
In the letter, Sacks described the Reform movement as a “false grouping” of Jews “who destroy the faith.”
Winer said that although the liberal-Orthodox split in England is even worse than it is in America, he anticipates that he and Sacks will have the same kind of close working relationship that he has had with Orthodox rabbis in America.
Winer was an official of the Synagogue Council of America, a now-defunct intradenominational organization that represented the Jewish community in dialogue with non-Jewish religious bodies.
Winer is also walking into a situation not unlike one he recently left ??? New York, where he was the senior rabbi for 10 years at the Jewish Community Center of White Plains, N.Y.
His congregation, now called Congregation Kol Ami, wanted to make his associate rabbi, Shira Milgrom, his professional equal by giving them both the titles “co-rabbis.”
Winer, who had brought Milgrom to the congregation, refused and ended up leaving the congregation with the title “rabbi emeritus.”
At West London Synagogue, the associate rabbi, Jacqueline Tabick, has run things since Gryn’s death 18 months ago and, according to an account in the London Jewish Chronicle, many in the congregation believed that she should be appointed his successor.
Tabick, the first woman ordained as a rabbi in Great Britain, has worked at West London for 22 years.
“If I believed for a moment that sexism were the reason she didn’t get the job then I wouldn’t take the position,” Winer said in a phone interview, adding, “I am committed to egalitarianism and I look forward to working with her as my colleague.”
Since leaving the White Plains congregation, Winer has focused his energies on establishing and leading the National Council of Synagogues, an umbrella group of Reform and Conservative congregations that tried, with only partial success, to succeed the Synagogue Council of America as the central address for dealings with interfaith affairs on a national and international level.
The National Council of Synagogues works with the national leadership of both the Catholic Church and the main Protestant umbrella group, the National Council of Churches of Christ, on issues of Jewish concern.
Of his new job, Winer said, “It is so much of the kind of synagogue and life and values that I treasure Jewishly and culturally — this was too good to pass up.”