Vote Verber: Putting Deputies at the heart of the Board and the Board at the heart of the community

10 May

We’re backing Richard Verber to be vice president of the Board of Deputies. Click here to read his manifesto.

Changing the Board has long argued for a more inclusive Board, leading the British Jewish community. Deputies are our greatest asset and we must do more to empower them to lead.

We believe he has the vision to do just that: to create a representative Board of Deputies, with Deputies at its core. We need to overhaul the dreadful Sunday morning plenaries – at best an irrelevant talking shop, at worst an embarrassment to the Jewish community. We need to turn them into a place of action and decision, with smaller working groups for Deputies to input into pressing matters of the day.

The Board’s governance needs a complete overhaul too: the past three years has seen no strategic plan from the President or the Honorary Officers. This must change. How can we honestly measure the success of the last triennium?

Regional Deputies, for too long the poor second cousins of the London Deputies, need to be better utilised. More money needs to go to the regions and more respect needs to be shown for their time: Sunday morning meetings must be pushed back to 11.30am to allow their trains to arrive.

Having been elected to the Finance and Organisation Division and then to the Board of Deputies’ Executive body, Richard has the experience, and more importantly, the vision, to create a better organisation for everyone. Chairing Limmud Conference and working for UJS and now World Jewish Relief mean he understands the value of cross-communalism and will be able to represent the wide range of views British Jews hold.

To put Deputies at the heart of the Board, and the Board at the heart of the community, vote for Richard Verber on May 17.

Click here to read his manifesto

Want to be Board President? Wait until you’re 61

26 Mar

New research reveals age of Board of Deputies leaders Research released this week shows the average age of Board of Deputies Presidents since 1979 is 61.

This is in contrast to the UK’s Prime Ministers since Margaret Thatcher first came to power – Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron – who have a relatively sprightly average age of less than 53.

The data was released by Changing the Board, a pressure group of current Deputies aiming to reform the Board of Deputies.

Whilst UK Prime Ministers have generally held office in their 40s and 50s, Board of Deputies Presidents were exclusively in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

The research also examined Board of Deputies vice presidents, ahead of what is expected to be a widely-contested election this May. They, too, had an average age of 61.

This 61 contrasts with recent JPR data showing that the average age of a British Jew is 41.

No President has held office below the age of 50 and only once vice-president was elected before their 50th birthday. Three have been in their 70s.

Reacting to the findings, Changing the Board’s Richard Verber said: “There are five honorary officer positions at the Board. Do we really think our community wouldn’t benefit from having one or two talented people in their 20s, 30s or 40s? It’s time for change. The Board of Deputies is the Jewish community’s representative body. But these figures show how far from representative the senior leadership is. The Board needs the best people to lead it, regardless of age. But by alienating younger people, the Board is missing out on half the community’s talent.”

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Ella Rose, UJS President said: “The Board of Deputies’ unique selling point is as a representative body. I am very worried that this research calls that claim into question. Excluding young people damages our community. I have the pleasure of working with passionate Jewish students every single day, running J-Socs, defending Israel and combating antisemitism. The Board of Deputies needs leadership from the whole community.”
Elliot Jebreel, Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue deputy, said: “This is a demographic timebomb. The average age of a British Jew is 41. For the Board’s average to be twenty years older than that shows how out of touch it is. If the Jewish community continues to disenfranchise young people there will be nobody left to volunteer. Young people don’t see a glass ceiling in their jobs so why is it only in the Jewish community they’re discriminated against? It’s time the Board of Deputies welcomed younger leaders who bring different experiences and perspectives.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet us @changetheboard

A proposal to reduce the number of Deputies

10 Mar

This is a guest post by Alan Shackman, Deputy for Finchley Reform Synagogue.

Having been a deputy for the past three years, I have first-hand experience of the frustration of having no role and of attending plenaries with next to no chance of making a contribution.

It would actually be extremely simple to reduce the number of deputies. Limit each organisation to just one deputy! But give this deputy a number of votes according to the size of the organisation they represent. So a deputy for a small organisation would have just one vote, while a deputy for a larger one would have two or more. (The TUC works perfectly well by this ‘block vote’ method so why not Board of Deputies?) Of course, there’s no reason why an organisation should not identify substitute(s) to attend if their deputy was unavailable, but only actual deputies could be elected to committees. Once the number is reduced, it should also be a principle that all deputies should have a specific role: if not on a committee then at least on one of the many sub-groups that each committee spawns.

This arrangement might even lead to more organisations holding a genuine election for their deputy. At present, with I believe only some 7 out of 147 having had elections, the claim that the Board of Deputies comprises democratically-elected deputies is extremely tenuous. If exposed it could so easily be used to undermine our position.

All a-Board

17 Nov

This is a guest post by Gabriel Webber, Deputy for Liberal Judaism. Follow him on twitter @gabrielquotes

It was symbolic that Charedi observers attended the Board of Deputies plenary yesterday. Their arrival finally closed a rift that began in the 1970s, when the Board was faced with another one of those ‘there’ll be a walkout either way’ moments – in that case, over whether or not to recognise the religious leaders of the Reform and Liberal movements.

I’d already noticed the parallel before I knew that the Charedim were coming along: the controversial change was really, really minor (now, admitting one Deputy from Yachad to join the ~250 others; then, introducing a rule that Progressive rabbis would be consulted on religious matters although the Orthodox Chief Rabbi would always get the final say – neither exactly an earth-shattering innovation); the dispute was over the ‘authentication’ of a body that divided opinion (now, recognising Yachad as part of the Jewish community; then, recognising the Progressive movements as proper Jews); and there were implicit threats of a walkout from whichever side lost.

In the 1970s, the Board decided to press ahead with its recognition of Reform and Liberal Judaism. The ultra-Orthodox issued a statement warning that the decision “gravely endanger[ed] the future of Anglo-Jewry” (sound familiar?) and withdrew their Deputies. Had the opposite decision been made, to deny the Progressive leaders recognition, it is likely that their Deputies would have left.

Back to the present, as now everybody in the western world must have heard, a plenary decided to admit Yachad as a constituency. Twitter was abuzz with pronouncements that the Board had just signed its own “suicide” note (direct quote) by recognising an organisation which was not only un-Jewish but which actively “hates Jews” (direct quote #2).

There were predictions that the right-wing would leave – and, as with the conflict 40 years ago, these predictions were aired beforehand as an argument against recognition (‘If you vote for Yachad/ the Liberal movement you’ll divide the community, and we’ll leave, and that will be bad for the Board, so don’t vote for them’).

Equally, had Yachad been denied representation, there might have been an exodus of those Deputies who felt that Yachad represented their position: ‘if the Board doesn’t want to represent Jews like us, so be it’.

It isn’t yet clear whether Yachad’s admission will provoke a walkout. But even if it does, that will be a walkout of protest, as opposed to a walkout of exclusion. The same was true in the 1970s: when the Charedim left, it was of their own free will, but had the Progressives been forced out by a vote that their opinions didn’t count, that would have made the Board obsolete as a representative body.

Of course, the Board of Deputies should represent the whole community. And it was a really special experience yesterday to sit in the first plenary in four decades which had delegates from the full spectrum of Anglo-Jewry. But in the interregnum things were not so terrible because nobody had been excluded. The absentees simply left by choice.

If people can’t handle inclusion, they are welcome to leave the rest of us to it. If people aren’t included, that is a problem.

The Board made the right decision in the 1970s. And it made the right decision yesterday. Here’s to a representative future!

Two and a half cheers for democracy

19 Feb

This is a guest post by Rachel Savage, Deputy for Sukkat Shalom Reform Synagogue.

As the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council move slowly towards a potential merger, it is natural to compare the two. One of the strengths of the Board, identified by its supporters, is that it is democratically elected and therefore somehow ‘better’ than the JLC. But what does it mean to be a democratic organisation? Is the Board using its democratic strengths to its full advantage? What else could democracy look like?

It’s easy to recognise the Board as a democratic organisation. In the Board’s own mission statement, it describes itself as “the community’s democratically elected cross-communal organisation”. But the term means something different to everyone and this confusion is at the heart of many concerns expressed about the Board and its effectiveness.

At one extreme is the current state of democracy on the Board. Deputies, members of Divisional boards and Honorary Officers (HOs) are elected. But many Deputies are elected by their constituencies in uncontested elections, and HOs and members of Divisions are elected by Deputies. Board plenary meetings are a talking shop; genuine votes are rare. When they do occur, they are more likely to be about procedural matters (Should meetings be streamed on the internet? How many Deputies should be required to bring a matter to the full Board for consideration?) than matters of Board policy. I have frequently heard that “the real work of the Board is done in the Divisions”. But I have also heard from frustrated Division members who find that the reports to the full Board on their Division’s activities fail to reflect what happens in Divisional meetings.

On the other extreme is the view that the Board should vote on “everything”. “Everything” is normally defined by the person expressing this view as “everything I personally disagree with”, whether that’s engaging in a joint project with a major NGO or paying a severance package to a departing member of Board staff. On the one hand, this view is absurd: plenary meetings would be even lengthier and more boring if every time the Board wanted to change paper cup supplier for refreshments served in their offices required scrutiny by all Deputies. On the other hand, if enough “I”s disagree with a particular Board decision, then surely those are the sorts of decisions that should be put to the vote due to their controversial status. Whilst this line of reasoning is appealing, it needs to be answered firmly by clear governance arrangements. It is tempting to allow Deputies to scrutinise the Board’s functions. But it’s a recipe for chaos to allow an unwieldy group of lay people to overturn the professional judgements of Board staff and the elected members of the Executive Committee taking decisions in matters properly delegated to them.

So what is the alternative? As a straw man, consider a Board with clear lines of governance. Deputies vote on the broad policies that the Board must follow and hold the staff and HOs to account in the way they implement that policy. The Executive Committee, whose members are the legally responsible trustees of the Board, takes decisions about allocation of resources and ensures the staff are carrying out work that reflects the agreed policies. The professional staff, assuming they are acting in line with those policies and the resource decisions of the Executive, are generally left to make professional judgements and get on with their work. I’m not sure what the role of the Divisions would be in this structure, but I’d welcome suggestions.

The Board’s democratic nature could be its strength, but only if we all agree about what decisions should be subject to democratic processes and what those processes should be.

Streamlining the Board – are there too many deputies?

27 Jun

This is a guest post by Anthony Tricot, Deputy for the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Follow him on twitter @AnthonyTricot

Amid all the public debate about the Board of Deputies, one of the characteristics that has received less scrutiny is that the size of the body makes it a bloated and less effective institution.

The total number of Deputies is now 287 (even excluding Under-35 observers) – with a further 39 places currently vacant. Deputies each represent fewer than 1,000 Jews. By contrast, MPs in Parliament each have 70,000 constituents. The Israeli Knesset – modelled on the ‘Great Assembly‘ in Roman times – has only 120 members to represent 7.7 million Israeli citizens.

This has material negative implications for the Jewish community.

Firstly, it endangers the representativeness of the Board. It means very few elections are competitive: my own Spanish and Portuguese community, for example, which sends four Deputies and an Under-35 observer, hasn’t had a competitive election in living memory, and the knowledge among our members of what our Deputies are up to is negligible as a result. That’s representative of the wider Jewish community: in the last Board elections, out of the 147 synagogues which sent Deputies only seven had contested elections.

Secondly, the number of Deputies is also a drain on communal resources: we incur transport costs of schlepping so many deputies into London for monthly meetings; we have to pay for grand accommodation at the BMA to accommodate all the machers; and we pay to print hundreds of meeting papers.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there isn’t all that much for these Deputies to do. Only a small proportion of Deputies are elected to places on committees (where most Board work gets done), and plenary meetings are unwieldy as a result of the number of people wanting a say. This creates frustration among Deputies that they don’t have an impact – with about half of Deputies often not bothering to attend the monthly plenaries. This is quite different to Parliament where even a humble opposition backbencher will sit on several committees holding the Government to account.

The truth is that a slimmer and leaner organisation could achieve more than the Board currently does.

Identifying the problem is easier than figuring out the solution. Limiting the number of Deputies wouldn’t be easy: communities pay according to the number of Deputies they send, so the Board could face a financial shortfall if there were fewer Deputies. A bigger problem is that small communities would lose out if the Board required larger constituencies – smaller communities might have to group together in order to send a Deputy. There are also risks that introducing any alternative models of electing representatives – such as having elections on a denominational or regional basis – could exacerbate fault lines within the community.

Lastly, a strict cap on numbers may make it more difficult to get fair representation for young people: the Board currently under-represents Jews that aren’t affiliated to established communities. But the ‘quick win’ remedies to this – such as increasing the number of UJS delegates or accrediting organisations like the Moishe House – would all add to the existing number of Deputies.

Ultimately there are no simple solutions to how the Board can be organised to fairly represent Jews. As Keith Kahn-Harris argued in the Guardian:

[T]here are always going to be limits as to how much a minority community can ever develop a truly representative body.

The importance of debate

The potential creation of a new representative communal body presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink some of the principles of representation in the community – including the appropriate size of the institution. We urgently need more debate on alternative models of representation for the community. Aspiring constitutional theorists should get stuck in!

If we can come up with a better model then the last hurdle would be to persuade the Deputies to vote for a slimmer institution. The current Government recently tried and failed to reduce the number of MPs by 10%. Would we have any more luck persuading Board turkeys to vote for Christmas?

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Please click here to see our note to editors.

Hostile takeover, merger or a better future?

21 Jun

This is a guest post by Elliot Jebreel, Deputy for Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue. Follow him on twitter @ejebreel

[Disclaimer: before starting my current job, I used to work for the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC). For some, this equates to me being their spy at the Board. I’m not.]

Certain parts of the UK Jewish community have been ablaze with conversations surrounding the future of our communal leadership and representative structures. Most of this has stemmed out of the Board-JLC Liaison Committee; a group, from what I understand, that was set up to help both organisations work together for the benefit of the Jewish community. In recent weeks it has emerged that the group probably overstepped their remit by discussing a possible merger between the two.

Understandably, many (including myself) were shocked to find out about this through the Jewish press. Just as understandable were deputies’ initial worries and fears that this signalled an attempted “hostile takeover” of the Board by the JLC.

However, it is now time to look to the future rather than spewing unfounded and fear-mongering arguments against talking to the JLC.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that we’re not representing British Jews as well as we should be – and this goes for all of the major Jewish communal organisations. Whether it be the charedim, LGBT Jews, unaffiliated Jews…or even your bog standard (if such thing exists) Jew in the pew.

This is why I want us all – British Jews of all and no affiliation – to take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to help shape the future of the Jewish community. We have the opportunity to get input from experts, see how other communities do it and ultimately come up with the best possible representative body for British Jews.

As part of this, Changing the Board will soon be releasing some basic principles we want to see in any future representative organisation. We will publish them on this site and welcome your thoughts.

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