Passionate Susie wants to strengthen community

SUSIE Gordon and the Leeds Jewish community are very much one and the same.

Her passion for the future of the place she has called home since 2005 is more than palpable.

The executive director of the Leeds Jewish community took me on a tour of the community, which seems to have something for everyone — from The Zone, to Beth Hamidrash Hagadol, Etz Chaim and United Hebrew Congregation synagogues, to the community centre and many welfare organisations.

There is also a thriving Leeds Maccabi football club, catering for all ages.

The 41-year-old London-born mother-of-two, has been in her role since 2010.

She said: “People are incredibly passionate about this community. They love living here.

“I went to a shul service on Shabbat and everyone was so smiley. It’s all about optimising what we have and making it the best we can.”

Speaking of smiley, Susie — who is married to Joel — is often the first face new arrivals to the community will see.

And that is one of the things she is most proud of.

She explained: Having to go to a new place and settle is quite lonely and tiring.

“I’ve been through it myself when I came here from London.

“It’s hard trying to make friends and fit into a community which is quite close-knit.

“Helping people to do that, and give them a connection of some kind, makes them genuinely happy — it’s a lovely, humbling moment.”

When Susie first moved to Leeds, the Jewish Free School did not exist.

But it’s seeing small ideas grow “from a seed” into reality which makes her even more proud of the community.

She added: “We had an entire generation of people wanting to go to Manchester because we didn’t have a high school.

“Weirdly, that generation of people are now sending their kids to the local high schools here, not just the Jewish one.

“It will take a longer time for that to make a difference, but it has made some kind of impact.

“Looking further ahead, I would love to see our organisations working together more.

“We all work for the same audience, so the more we can do that together, the stronger we will be.”

The official community figures vary, depending on who you ask.

Some put it around 10,000, while others, including Susie, reckon it is more at the 6,000-8,000 level.

This is further broken down, she adds, to 4,000 on a community database with 2,000 attending events, but only 800 regular faces.

She said: “We need to figure out how to get more of those faces involved, and feel passionate about the community.”

* Leon Davidson does not own Street Lane Bakery, as reported last week. Beth Hamidrash Hagadol is the official owner.

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