Are you on Board for change?

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - Richard Ver­ber

IAM COM­ING to the end of my first year on the Board of Deputies. As I sat in one of the monthly meet­ings a few weeks ago, I thought: it doesn’t need to be like this. Meet­ings are long and rarely run to sched­ule. Agen­das are pub­lished, but there is of­ten in­suf­fi­cient time to deal with the mat­ters of the day. Con­tribut­ing new ideas is dif­fi­cult and what goes on be­hind the scenes is opaque at best. Deputies are of­ten frus­trated by the process, the un­clear rules, and the gen­eral malaise that set­tles at the end of most meet­ings. For the ben­e­fit of the com­mu­nity, this must change.

The deputies are good peo­ple, who will­ingly give their time to serve the com­mu­nity. Many travel hun­dreds of miles to make it to London on a Sun­day morn­ing. But they are painfully un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the com­mu­nity. Just 25 per cent are women, with 196 men out of a to­tal of 260 deputies, de­spite women out­num­ber­ing men in the com­mu­nity. The en­tire ex­ec­u­tive is male, too. The Board is miss­ing out on dozens and dozens of tal­ented women who could — and should be en­cour­aged to —of­fer their ex­per­tise.

Younger mem­bers of our com­mu­nity are also un­der­rep­re­sented. It is won­der­ful that meet­ings of­ten be­gin with “Mazal Tovs”, such as a deputy cel­e­brat­ing his 60th birth­day. But it is dread­ful that, at 60, the gentleman in ques­tion is one of the youngest in the room. Ac­cord­ing to the 2001 cen­sus, 12.4 per cent of Bri­tish Jews are over 75, yet 26 per cent of deputies are over 71. About 25 per cent of Bri­tish Jews are aged be­tween 20 and 40, but that age group makes up just seven per cent of the cur­rent deputies. For the ben­e­fit of the com­mu­nity, this, too, must change.

What can be done? Well, a group of young pro­fes­sion­als, older pro­fes­sion­als, youth move­ment ac­tivists and stu­dents have got to­gether to say: enough. Our cam­paign is called Chang­ing the Board. While we hold some reser­va­tions about the Board’s cur­rent struc­ture, we feel it is im­per­a­tive that Bri­tish Jewry is able to or­gan­ise it­self and speak as one. It mat­ters be­cause it is a demo­crat­i­cally elected, non-de­nom­i­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion that, when it gets it right, can sup­port Jewish com­mu­ni­ties big and small across the length and breadth of the UK.

The Board faces four im­me­di­ate chal­lenges that it must ad­dress. Firstly, the Board must strive to at­tract the best peo­ple, re­gard­less of age or gen­der. Se­condly, it needs to show that it is se­ri­ous about en­gag­ing young peo­ple in its work. Young peo­ple are vi­tal be­cause they bring fresh ideas, new per­spec­tives and are in­creas­ingly will­ing to de­vote the time. The Board must also look ur­gently at how it can “rep­re­sent” new par­ties in the Jewish com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the many grass-roots groups flour­ish­ing across the UK. It must find a way to en­gage ev­ery­one who wishes to en­gage.

The Board can go some way to achiev­ing all of these by ad­dress­ing what is per­haps its most press­ing chal­lenge: to bet­ter ex­plain to the wider com­mu­nity what on earth the Board is, what it does and why peo­ple should care.

How can you help cre­ate change? You can be­come a deputy of your syn­a­gogue, youth move­ment or communal or­gan­i­sa­tion. If your com­mu­nity has never joined the Board, then join. If you used to have a deputy decades ago, re-af­fil­i­ate. You don’t need to be rich, or from London, or a man.

Deputies will be elected be­tween now and May to serve for three years. We are call­ing for any­one, of any age, to join us. If you’re in­ter­ested in change, if you’re tired of be­ing ig­nored and mis­rep­re­sented, the time has come for ac­tion. The time is now. Richard Ver­ber is the pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment and lead­er­ship train­ing di­rec­tor of the Union of Jewish Stu­dents. www.chang­ingth­e­board. word­press.com

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