“Here’s the big secret behind the conspiracy … there is no conspiracy”

18 Jan

This article by Richard Verber first appeared on cartoonkippah.com.

I’m going to say something that regular readers of Cartoon Kippah might find quite shocking.

I quite like the Board of Deputies. There, I said it.

I like the idea of British Jews organising themselves to speak as one to government, media and public figures. I like the idea of a democratically elected non-denominational organisation supporting Jewish communities big and small across the length and breadth of Scotland, England and Wales. I like the idea of a representative body where every Jew can share an opinion, enriching the debate about what it means to be Jewish today.

The problem is, this is not what the Board of Deputies looks like today. There are communities who do not affiliate to the Board and who do not believe that it speaks for them. There are communities with smaller Jewish populations who feel marginalised by its London-centric nature. There are those who feel only the loudest voices are heard, and not necessarily a range of voices. And for many, the Board is not representative: just 25% of deputies are women and there are even fewer young people. Least representative of all is the Executive itself, made up exclusively of men over the age of forty (perhaps fifty, but I don’t wish to be rude). It is wonderful that Board meetings often begin with Mazal tovs, such as a Deputy celebrating his sixtieth birthday. It is dreadful that at sixty, the gentleman in question is still one of the youngest in the room. This must change.

The idea behind the Board, in its own words, is “to promote and defend the religious and civil liberties of British Jewry.” The Board goes about its business through a small paid office team who carry out the wills of the Board’s President and Executive. The President and Executive are elected and given a mandate by a group of around 265 people, themselves elected – in theory – from organisations covering all walks of Jewish life – synagogues, charities and youth movements. The idea is that every community with a certain number of members can elect a delegate – a ‘Deputy’ – who acts in a similar way to an MP by representing their constituency to the Board.

The problem is, many people do not know how to get involved with the Board, or worse, are blissfully unaware of its very existence. The 265 Deputies do not sufficiently represent the diversity of our community. Many Deputies are not elected. Many Deputies attend meetings to further their own interests, and not the interests of the constituents they are supposed to represent. This, too, must change.

And it can. Here’s the big secret behind the conspiracy to keep the Board dominated by men from the community’s older generations: there is no conspiracy. Seriously, there isn’t.

Anyone can get involved and stand for election. The next set of elections are upon us: Deputies will be elected between now and May to serve for a 3-year term. We’re calling for anyone, of any age, but particularly new young people to join us. Whether through your local synagogue, regional council or student Jewish society, 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.

To find out more, email us at ChangingTheBoard@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @theVerbUJS

Richard Verber is Professional Development and Leadership Training Director at the Union of Jewish Students

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4 Responses to ““Here’s the big secret behind the conspiracy … there is no conspiracy””

  1. Anthony Spencer Deputy for Shenley April 15, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    Richard I sympathise with your comments. Many Deputies are elected by their synagogue communities. Therefore it is important to attend your local synagogue on Shabbat and get to know your community. You should also bé seen to bé doing things for your community. Then stand for election to the Board or first become an under 35 observer. .

    Nobody is going to get elected because they are young or a woman. It just dosnt work like that. Yes we have some old people of great communal experience and only 25% women, but this is because more women dont put themselves forward for election.

    • changingtheboard April 15, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

      Hi Anthony, thanks for your support and for taking the time to reply.
      We agree that Deputies need to know their communities (though surely there are other ways to do this than only synagogue attendance on Shabbat!). And we also agree that Deputies should be nominated and elected on merit – it’s about getting the best people for the job.
      But sometimes, when there are obvious voices missing from the community at the Board (e.g. women or young people), action does need to be taken. Research looking at why women don’t put themselves forward (e.g. lack of childcare provided by the Board or a male-dominate style of politics which is off-putting) would allow us to challenge the status quo based on evidence, and not a hunch. That’s the type of new engagement Changing the Board is calling for.

  2. Anthony Spencer Deputy for Shenley April 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Responding to your comments I said most members are nominated by members of Synagogues and Jewish Organisations and they have to bé elected. We do not show favour to anyone nor does wealth count in a candidates favour or who you are;- after all we are not the JLC.

    The Board has enough expenses without having to pay for childcare. If a woman is
    elected to Parliament for example, nobody will pay for childcare. That is the domain of the husband or grandparents. Deputies give their time for free and many travel very long distances and take all debates most seriously. So it is not quite the Sunday morning club of geriatrics that you write about. If anyone wishes to become a Deputy maie or female it is down to them to get elected. We rightly do not operate policies of positive discrimination or social engineering.

  3. Renee Bravo. May 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    One of the main reasons why the Board (and so many other organisations) appear to be dominated by older people is because they are the ones who have the time. Regarding the small numbers of women pro rata, one of the main reasons is because elections for the Board took place at synagogue Annual General Meetings. If the synagogue was orthodox, most women were not even members, and even if they were, how many women go to synagogue AGM,s.
    There is a biblical precedent for this situation. To serve in the army, you had to be twenty. But to attend to the tabernacle, which can be likened to serving the community, you had to be fifty.
    New ideas are important, but so is experience. If you can find a way of marrying the two, I support your endeavours with all my heart.
    Sincerely, Mrs. Renee Bravo, deputy for twenty-five years.

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