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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 06:28 GMT 07:28 UK
'Different shades' of Judaism
By Liam Allen
BBC News in Manchester

David Gould, left, with son Ben and Rabbi Silverman
Rabbi Dr Reuven Silverman (r) seeks inter-faith dialogue

"What I'm most proud of is that I've managed to combine being a rabbi with being a father. I've seen all my three sons survive being a rabbi's son."

The answer Rabbi Dr Reuven Silverman gives, when asked about his biggest achievement, is telling.

Rabbi Silverman has spent 28 years at the helm of Manchester Reform Synagogue in the heart of the city - a position he gained after passing a job interview in 1977.

"They asked which football team I supported and I told them United. They assumed it was Manchester, but I actually support Leeds United."

He obviously sees his job as looking after a family - not just in terms of his relatives, but also in what he sees as the "extended family" of his congregation.

"There are people who don't have a family. For them, this congregation is their family," he says.

"Holding together a very disparate community" is what the rabbi considers to be his other biggest achievement.

Rabbi Dr Reuven Silverman

"They come from all over Manchester and they've all got differing shades of commitment to Judaism. Some come from orthodox backgrounds, some not, and some have converted to Judaism."

He says the congregation has remained at a "steady" level of about 1,500 people in recent years.

"What's encouraging is that we have seen a growth of younger people," he said.

Reformism is loyal to Jewish traditions while reflecting modernity, and there are three reform congregations in Manchester.

Rabbi Silverman said his congregation had been concentrating in recent months on developing inter-faith relationships.

The need for this was brought into sharp focus by the recent bomb attacks in London.

To that end, an annual weekend conference for members of northern reform synagogues planned for November, entitled 'Faith to Faith', will explore such issues.

"The important thing is for us to encourage a theological atmosphere of liberalism and to get together liberal-minded people of other faiths to encourage this," Rabbi Silverman says.

'Disproportionate power'

He believes it is impossible to change the minds of fundamentalists, but it is important to "keep the general atmosphere of our country on a non-fundamentalist tack".

1857: Founded when Orthodox synagogue splits into two congregations
1858: First synagogue consecrated near the city's Cheetham Hill Road
1941: That building destroyed by bomb on 1 June during blitz of city
1941 to 1953: No break in services as congregation uses alternative accommodation
1953: Current building opened on 29 November

"There are fundamentalists of all religions, including Judaism.

"But reformism is opposed to that."

The Movement for Reform Judaism says it is "dismayed by the disproportionate power and influence of extreme right-wing Jewish fanaticism and its unacceptable discrimination against non-orthodox Jews".

'Critical mind'

On the subject of Israel, Rabbi Silverman sees his movement as a critical friend of the country.

"We keep a very critical mind on developments in Israel whilst being very supportive of Israel," he said.

"We are not blinkered and we speak our minds openly in terms of human rights.

"I've had a couple of visits to Israel and Palestine in recent months as part of my involvement with Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel."

The movement's position on Israel is that it is "deeply saddened that, up until now, the Palestinians have failed to agree peace terms which we believe to have been a fair and just settlement of the conflicting claims and clashing rights that have bought so much suffering to the area".

Wanted to become a rabbi at about eight years old
Training as a rabbi, including stint as student rabbi at Manchester Reform Synagogue
Three years at Edgware Reform Synagogue
In 1977, passes interview for job as Manchester Reform Synagogue rabbi

The only "just and peaceful solution" to the present problems in the area is one "based on two states sharing the land and living in mutual respect", the movement adds.

New building

But dealing with dramatic world events does not mean that Rabbi Silverman's day-to-day tasks at the synagogue take a back seat.

Helping a 12-year-old boy with Bar Mitzvah preparations, counselling a congregation member with a seriously ill relative, meeting the head teacher of the synagogue's religious school and preparing an 82-year-old member of the congregation to read from the Hebrew scriptures when the Rabbi goes on holiday are all part of his day.

And he will become even busier in the next few years with the construction of a new building on the site of the current one which, he says, is "stuck in the 1950s".

"I find it very scary and we'll be without the building for about a year," Rabbi Silverman says.

But the truth is that he is relishing the opportunity to further strengthen the community he has helped to build and maintain over the last 28 years.

"It's an opportunity to pull together and to help people strengthen bonds."


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