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Simonson acknowledges that kind of openness risks alienating Britain’s sizable, and growing, haredi and Modern Orthodox communities. But the participation in the opening of Ephraim Mirvis, the country’s new chief rabbi, gives Simonson hope that JW3 can be a place of all sectors of London Jewry.
Mirvis’ predecessor, Jonathan Sacks, refrained from attending the interdenominational Limmud conference during his 22 years in office. But Mirvis announced earlier this month that he would be attending Limmud in December. Mirvis’ office declined JTA’s request for an interview, but Simonson believes his attendance at the JW3 opening was something of a trial balloon.
“It shows that the chief rabbi came and the sky did not fall down,” Simonson says.
Mirvis’ seal of approval may help JW3 with the Modern Orthodox community, but Simonson still does not expect much traffic from haredim, who constitute British Jewry’s fastest growing contingent, according to a 2012 report.
“We’re open to them,” he said, “and I think there are genuinely things in our program that would be attractive. But it would be naive of me to realistically think we’ll have significant numbers of haredi Jews coming here.
“They are by definition set apart from the mainstream, and we’re all about bringing Judaism to the mainstream.”