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British Jews Not Bowling Alone, Says Study That Lauds Community

April 29, 2003
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The British Jewish community should be a role model for successful minority communities and a cohesive civil society, British policy makers say.

The assessment is based on the findings of a major new report, published this month, of the “social capital” of the Jewish community of Manchester.

The report by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, a London-based think tank, focused on the 30,000-strong community, the biggest in Britain after London’s.

Named “Creating Community and Accumulating Social Capital: Jews Associating with Other Jews in Manchester,” the report casts a light on how cultural bonds and associations hold communities together.

The concept of social capital, basically the premise that social networks have value and are integral to a cohesive civil society, was popularized by Harvard scholar Robert Putnam in his 2000 book, “Bowling Alone.”

Written by social researcher Ernest Schlesinger, the JPR study looked at 13 separate recreational associations, including soccer leagues, golf clubs and Jewish theater.

Among its findings, the study shows how cultural rather than just religious bonds have become the common denominator in ensuring a sense of kinship between many Jewish people in the northern English city — a phenomenon inherent throughout Jewish communities in Britain, the research finds.

“This is a groundbreaking report,” said JPR’s director of research, Stanley Waterman. “It casts a light on a critical dimension of U.K. Jewish life by showing the power of the nonideological and nonreligious links that hold our communities together.”

Waterman also points to its implications for other ethnic communities and the wider society.

“While the general feeling is that overall social capital is in a state of decline, studies such as this show that among key ethnic and religious groups, voluntary, grassroots associations still play a key role in holding individual communities, and society in general, together.”

The Manchester report also has been acclaimed by British government officials as giving insight into how public policy may be executed to ensure that communities remain vibrant in an increasingly individualistic society.

“Often in public policy we tend to think we’re the ones who can bring social capital about. In fact, as this study shows, more often than not it is the ‘hands-off’ approach that allows social capital to grow,” said David Rayner, an urban policy official in the British government. “This is the kind of analysis that can serve as a model for other groups throughout the U.K.”

Leaders from other minority faith communities have praised the picture of Manchester’s Jews as a potential role model.

Rumman Ahmed, the Muslim chairman of The Faith-Based Regeneration Network, a national body that promotes the role of religious groups in community building, said his own community could draw hope from the JPR study.

“I was delighted to see the tremendous range of activities taking place in Manchester, where the Jewish community is more than 100 years old,” Ahmed said. “While the Muslim community is younger and has been active for some 50 years, what is clear from this report is that in many ways, both are on parallel trajectories.”

The research also shows how, despite high standards of living and integration into British society, Manchester Jews show a strong tendency to stick together as an ethno-religious group.

It highlights the central role played by informal voluntary links through “associational activities” — for some Jews, the only link with others outside their family.

The study is part of a five-year JPR undertaking to record the current state of the Jewish voluntary sector in the United Kingdom

As part of the Long-Term Planning for British Jewry project, the JPR has published recommendations on the future of Jewish schooling and the state of social welfare, among other topics.

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