This is a guest post by Rob Sassoon, under 35 Observer for Reading Hebrew Congregation. Follow him on Twitter @robsassy
Last year when the Changing the Board movement started, it immediately piqued my curiosity and I started considering standing to be a Deputy. Just finishing University at the time, having been Chair of my Student Union Council and successfully dealing with both the politics and apolitics that came with the job, the Board of Deputies seemed like an ideal next step.
Unfortunately, my synagogue has only one Deputy allocated to it and if anyone other than my father was the incumbent holder of said seat, I probably would have run for it. After I turned down his selfless offer to stand aside so that I could run freely for the position, he instead suggested I run to be the synagogue’s Under 35 Observer.
Every synagogue has the right, on top of their allocation of Deputies, to send an elected Under 35 Observer (hereafter referred to as “U35”) to plenary meetings. Although U35s’ attendance is minuted, unlike Deputies we cannot vote, run for divisions or be elected to the Constitution Committee. We do not have automatic speaking rights either; these are granted by the President when we wish to speak (though this has never been denied).
This being before my time I can’t tell you what the Board’s rationale behind the decision to introduce U35s from the start of the 2009-12 triennium was, but I suspect it was in response to the relative lack of engagement from younger people in the Board’s work and this being a way to start to redress this. The idea was initially thought of by Jerry Lewis, a former Vice President of the Board.
I was keen to get involved and was duly elected. At the time of publishing I’ve attended every plenary that I can, only missing them when prior commitments have prevented me from going.
My own experience of the plenaries which I’ve attended is that Deputies treat me as if I was one of them rather than an outsider, and as such I’ve jumped straight into several Board activities head first. During division election hustings I was canvassed for votes just as much as the next person; candidates happily continued to engage with me even after I told them I couldn’t vote for them! I have spoken at a plenary before (at my first one, noch) and have not been afraid to actively speak to other Deputies, Board staff or Honorary Officers where needed. I was also appointed as a scrutineer for the divisional elections and spent a day in the Board’s offices helping to count and verify the votes, and attended the President’s Dinner last year.
Given the success of the Changing the Board movement and the huge increase in representation on the Board of younger people, it has left me wondering if we still need U35s. There were 42 in the previous triennium; this time round we sadly have only 15. However, as well as more younger people standing to represent their synagogues and other communal organisations, UJS had its allocation of Deputies increased from 6 to 12 from this triennium, and the organisation has ensured that 8 of these positions are taken by a wide variety of students from JSocs large and small from St Andrews to Sussex with the remaining 4 going to UJS staff, all of whom are recent graduates.
U35s were introduced with the best intentions but now I feel that the need for their existence has been transcended by the wider variety of elected Deputies that currently exist. It is with both delight (that I feel it is now unnecessary) and sadness (being one myself) that I propose that the Board should consider ending the scheme in 2015 and should instead continue to work with Changing the Board, UJS and others to ensure that younger people are instead represented as Deputies.
So look out Dad – I might be going for your seat after all!
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