Dear Mr Johnson
I’m writing this year in advance of the Chanukah in the Square event in a personal capacity. I would like to know if it is mayoral policy for public occasions to endorse direct and indirect discrimination of women in events supported by the Mayor of London?
It would seem that the use of the Mayor’s budget to support an event like Chanukah in the Square at which, judging by the publicity, no women will speak publicly in a religious capacity and under the mistaken sense of it being representative of the Jewish community, which it is not, might be construed as a misuse of public funds. The only way I can see you counteracting this possibility would be to insist that a woman rabbi and woman leader of the Jewish community speak at the event. Otherwise, it seems to me that you are condoning the removal of women from public Jewish life and discrimination on the grounds of gender. Chabad is no more authentic an expression of Jewish life than the Movement for Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism and in both Liberal and Reform synagogues there are many women rabbis and communal leaders who could be involved.
I realise that this is an event that you are undertaking alongside the London Jewish Forum and the Jewish Leadership Council and that you may be unwilling to leverage a change in the heady Jewish politics that leads to Chabad controlling this occasion. However, since the publicity has the Mayor of London’s logo appearing on it, I would have thought that you might be able to insist, at least, that women play an active role – both as communal leaders and religious figures. I do not think it would be too extreme a step to indicate your unwillingness to continue to support the event without an end to discrimination. The publicity and full line-up has not yet been released so it would not be too late to make this insistence. I would gladly find a photo opportunity in a London synagogue (that embraces equality) of the Mayor of London lighting a Chanukiah if it is your desire to demonstrate your commitment to London’s multi-faith life!
Last year when I attended, and I should add brought with several others from my community to enjoy the occasion, I was utterly dismayed and disillusioned by the lack of leadership which had led the stage to be dominated by men and that you, as a non-Jew, could participate in the lighting of the candles but a woman, let alone a woman rabbi, was not heard in the proceedings and did not have any religious input.
I would be grateful for your attention to this matter at an event which I presume is partly funded and supported by the Mayoral budget and which I consider to be a reflection of London’s great cosmopolitan nature – yet the event remains in control of a sect of Jews who do not represent me. It is therefore, as far as I am concerned, equivalent to the Christmas lights on Oxford Street or Chinese New Year celebrations – both of which I enjoy but neither of which has any bearing on my religious sensibilities.
For your information, I have written about this here: http://wp.me/p1B8IT-aJ
With very best wishes and kind regards
Rabbi Neil Janes