I’m not backward in coming forward. So why have I found the Board such a hard nut to crack?

22 Jan
This is a guest post by Amanda Ruback, Deputy for The Hampstead Synagogue. Follow her on twitter @amandaruback1
So, I’m your classical middle-aged Jewish woman with two teenage daughters. I have a full-on full-time job as a director of an international development charity and I’m out of the country around one week a month on business.
Like my mother before me, I’m a serial volunteer – taking on many roles within and outside of the Jewish community and I’ve been an active member of my Shul Board of Management for many years. And like many of the other Changing the Board members, I’m a new Deputy who took my place on the Board in May 2012.
In most settings I’m not backward in coming forward. But I’ve found the Board of Deputies a hard nut to crack. At first it was just the behaviour more suited to a primary school playground at Plenaries that floored me – all the shouting and ‘Points of Order’ and debates that weren’t debates – I felt like I was the only person that found this alien and I wondered whether the Deputies that seemed to thrive in that setting acted in the same way in other aspects of their lives.

And then came Divisional elections. I had been advised that if I wanted to give and get the most out of the Board I should stand for a Division. And so, given that I spend a good proportion of my time being ‘International’ I thought that I might have something to offer there.

The voting system and the fact that no-one knew me were obstacles but perhaps the biggest barrier was the notion that I hadn’t earned my stripes yet; that because I was new – irrespective of the experience I brought to the Board – I had less to offer than the Deputies that had been around a while or even a lifetime. Unsuccessful in that round, I looked elsewhere for areas where I could get involved.

The Women’s Group welcomed me as did BODSA (Board of Deputies Social Action) and I’ve enjoyed being able to get stuck in and contribute. But I still hadn’t taken the plunge and spoken up at Plenary. Until Sunday. I reckoned that if ever there was going to be a debate on a topic I cared about and knew a lot about, this would be the one.

Before the Board Meeting proper, there was a meeting of the Women’s Group and a presentation from Nicky Goldman of LEAD about setting up a mentoring scheme for Women Deputies. The Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership research had found that 38% of women don’t have the confidence to lead and that there were a range of strategies that could address this, of which mentoring was one that had had great success in other settings. One experienced woman Deputy in the meeting – whose day job required a great deal of oratory – told us that the only time that she’s nervous about speaking in public is when she goes up to the microphone at the Board Plenaries. Not a great ad or confidence booster when I knew that that could be me in the next hour or so.

But when my name was called, I walked up to the mic, waited my turn and got to have my say – without a wobble in my voice I’m glad to report. And, as other blogs have indicated, there was a marked shift to the ‘minhag’ of this Plenary with much more supportive cheering and only a little boorish jeering; mostly clear instructions about proceedings and some streamlining of the bureaucracy.

Lao-tzu said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I made my first step on Sunday, and in voting for Grow, I believe that the Board has taken its first step in a genuinely productive partnership with Oxfam.

Just don’t get me started on the open and secret microphone issue…

***

Read more:

A real change in conduct by Daniel Grabiner

Oxfam, Grow: NGO. Do we do it, yes or no? by Gabriel Webber

Live steaming – good, twitter abuse – bad by “Abu Sassy”

***

Please click here to see our note to editors.
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5 Responses to “I’m not backward in coming forward. So why have I found the Board such a hard nut to crack?”

  1. Jon Benjamin January 22, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    You made a great contribution and if you ever want to talk about the enigma that is the Board, just call me for a chat. We were all freshers once.

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