The Jewish Chronicle

Laura Marks


AS THE chair of the Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership (CWJL), Laura Marks has called for women to come to the fore in the community. She probably did not intend this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy but — on top of her work at the CWJL and her role as the founder of social action organisati­on, Mitzvah Day — she last month topped the poll for vice-president of the Board of Deputies, only months after becoming a deputy for the first time.

She explained before the poll that, as the commission was trying to encourage women to step up to leadership, “I can’t tell people what they ought to be doing if I am not prepared to do it”.

Clearly the voters agreed that the Jewish community needed a dynamic female voice, as she gained support from all parts of the community. After the vote, she commented: “It’s gratifying because I couldn’t have got through on a Progressiv­e-only vote. The fact that the support base must have been wider is important for the community and the board.”

Marks, who is a member of the North Western Reform Synagogue, and is married to TV producer, Dan Patterson — the creative force behind programmes including Whose Line Is It Anyway and Mock the Week — grew up in the North-West London heartland. She attended South Hampstead School and later Haberdashe­rs’ Aske’s School in Elstree and her family were members of the Edgware and District Reform Synagogue.

Like so many Jews who have since become prominent in public life, she was a member of the youth group Habonim, which she claims, taught her leadership skills and independen­ce.

After university, Marks did teacher training and a masters degree but instead of taking up a full-time post in education she went into advertisin­g and marketing — eventually becoming planning director at the AMV BBDO agency.

She did not get fully involved in Jewish community matters until her three children came along and, more specifical­ly, until her husband’s work took the family to America. Marks wrote: “When we returned, three years later, I was ready to quit the commercial world and to bring some of the assertive, creative Judaism I had seen in California to the UK.”

Her answer was Mitzvah Day which, from small beginnings, has become a cross-communal interfaith day of social action. It now spans 22 countries and 300 communitie­s.

Her mission, since taking up the chair of the CWJL has been to increase the proportion of women serving in senior roles in communal organisati­ons — a number that currently stands at about 20 per cent.

She is certainly encouraged that her aims seem to have broad support. In a recent survey, 88 per cent of those questioned agreed that women should be able to chair synagogue boards. And a substantia­l minority — 35 per cent — accepted that quotas were the most effective way to increase the number of women working in senior roles in the community. Marks said she was surprised by how many people, both men and women, supported the use of quotas. It might be that quotas are necessary. However, Marks herself has shown that it is feasible for a sufficient­ly committed and dynamic woman to rise to a prominent role in the community without the need for any such measures.

IT’S TUESDAY morning and I have much to prepare before my pupils arrive for a day at my sculpture studio. I really enjoy inspiring and guiding my students while simultaneo­usly allowing them to express their emotions and talents through their creativity. I opened my first sculpture studio in Durban, South Africa at the age of 23. I love people and find it amazing to see what they are able to achieve and to create with my guidance.

I spend the following day in the studio, creating and developing my latest work. If I’m lucky, my three grandchild­ren will come and assist me with my work and tell me which sculptures they prefer. I receive a phone call from a corporate client, commission­ing a new piece for its City office. I arrange a meeting to discuss concepts, size specificat­ions and what medium they require. With Maggie, my miniature dachshund, at my side, my husband John often finds me still working away in the early hours of the morning. I work best in the quiet hours between dusk and dawn.

The next day, I’m off to one of my foundries, where one of my latest commission­s is being cast. I need to check the waxes, make any adjustment­s that are necessary before it is cast and finish some welding before we start patinating to achieve the correct colour.

I am up early on Friday morning with a phone call to prepare my pieces for the Olympic Sculpture Park. I am privileged that my “Diving Girls” have been selected to appear at the park. I have been co-ordinating with the movers and installers and am really excited with the progress. Next, I pop into the Sofitel Hotel to check on my installati­on there. It’s an ongoing process to keep tabs on each of my pieces that are being exhibited, whether in the beautiful gardens of The Grove Hotel, or at the Expo Gallery at Heathrow Terminal 5. Still, despite another busy day I manage to make it home with time to whip up Friday night dinner for my parents, children and grandchild­ren.

It is so exciting to see my dynamic works in the centre of London, such as “Core Femme”, which was placed in Cavendish Square as part of the City of Westminste­r Sculpture Festival. I loved attending The Henley Festival and seeing my “Pair Oar” rowers in such a prominent position at the Leander Club, allowing so many people to take pleasure in my works.

The next morning, I receive a letter thanking me for my participat­ion in The Fabergé Big Egg Hunt, which took place earlier this year and involved 200 eggs being hidden around London. My egg, positioned outside The Royal Exchange in the City, which was kindly sponsored, sold in the charity auction for an amazing price, in aid of Elephant Family and Action for Children charities. To be taken seriously as a sculptor, and to have my work acclaimed by not only critics but by family and friends, fulfils my lifelong passion to achieve recognitio­n for a lifetime of work and dedication. While I so enjoy using the creative skills, I feel humbled by the gift of the talent that I possess. Jill Berelowitz is a London-based sculptor focusing on the human form

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