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Report: British Jews must meet brave new world

LONDON, March 26 (JTA) — British Jews should not look at themselves in strictly religious terms, but as a people tied together culturally, historically and socially as well, according to a London-based Jewish think tank.

“For the purposes of representation, we should adopt an inclusive definition of the Jewish people and present ourselves as an ethnic group,” says the report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, which was published in London last Friday.

The report also called for the creation of a program aimed at educating female, younger and unaffiliated Jews in how to become leaders of the community “skilled in representation.”

According to an institute spokesman, the proposal would represent a “significant” change in a multicultural Britain.

It notes the “strain on the historic representational structures of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Chief Rabbinate.”

In what is regarded as a reference to the Chief Rabbinate, the leader of the mainstream modern Orthodox movement that represents some 60 percent of the British community and is widely considered as a key voice, the report says a diverse range of voices should represent Jewish interests.

“There is no one best way, nor is one overarching organization or leader able to speak on behalf of the entire community,” says the report, which describes British Jewry as a “community of communities.”

Professor Margaret Harris, who participated in the study, said that “rather than focusing on the 10 percent of the issues which divide us,” the report “lays out the 90 percent of the issues on which we effectively agree.”

“Our community,” she said, “needs to plan for our objective and practical needs in social welfare, health, education, security and civil rights.”

The report notes that current developments in Britain — closer integration into the European Union, devolution and regionalization, changes in local government and reform of the House of Lords — all pose new challenges for Jewish life.

The report recommends the creation of a new, cross-communal networking and coalition-building body.

According to institute director Barry Kosmin, the report is “a radical departure from the kind of thinking that sees Jews as part of the status quo.”

“This report demonstrates how we can continue to be a positive and active force, both nationally and locally, while at the same time retaining our unique identity in a new era.”

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