Gillian Caplin, the newly elected president of the worldwide Conservative or Masorti movement, lives in North West London. She is a former chairperson of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, during which she was instrumental in the creation and development of Masorti Europe, the regional body that fosters the development of Masorti communities across Europe. A former television producer, she is married and the mother of two. The Jewish Week caught up with her late last month when she was in New York. This is an edited transcript.
Q: The Conservative movement overseas is called the Masorti movement. Why?
A: Because the word conservative means something totally different in Europe. There is a Conservative political party that it could be confused with, and the word conservative means people who are not open-minded and who favor the status quo. Also, in Israel the Conservative movement is called the Masorti movement, and we all wanted to identify as one movement.
How many congregations do you have?
We have 40 in Europe, and it is the dominant movement in Latin America — particularly in Argentina.
According to the recent Pew Research Center poll of American Jews, the Conservative movement here is the choice of only 18 percent of American Jews. Yet it is growing in Israel. How is it doing in the rest of the world?
In the last 10 years, it has become the fastest-growing movement in Europe… The Masorti movement is certainly stronger than it has ever been. I hear what Pew says about the Conservative movement in the U.S., but I do know that people’s commitment to the movement is strong across Europe — which I know best.
To what would you attribute that growth?
Because people are looking for traditional Judaism. Practices of Judaism vary from country to country. Modern Orthodox is the most dominant across Europe. The Reform movement is also strong across Europe, but there is now a reaching out for more a traditional form of Judaism, which is what the Masorti movement fills.
Maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t think the Conservative movement is dying. I believe that it is the sort of Judaism people all over the world are looking for.
I understand there are big developments in Berlin.
That is where the Masorti movement will be opening in the fall its first rabbinical seminary in Europe. It will be a five-year course at the University of Potsdam. We expect half-a-dozen graduates a year.
The German government will pay the tuition, as well as a stipend towards living expenses. And the courses will be taught in English by Masorti rabbis from across Europe.
Do you expect students at the two Conservative rabbinical schools in the United States to transfer there?
Some might but they will have to take general courses at the university that will be in German.
Will a rabbinical seminary in Berlin be an attraction or a hindrance because of Germany’s Nazi past?
I think people still have reservations about Germany — the younger generation probably less. Berlin is an exciting city and Germany completely acknowledges its responsibility for what happened during the war.
What impact do events in Israel have on Jewish communities overseas?
Quite an impact. Most Mastori communities are Zionist and pro-Israel. They respond if there is a need and they celebrate Israel’s achievements. There is a perceived rise in anti-Semitism worldwide. It is stronger in countries where the government is not supportive of the Jewish community.