Because the times they are a-changin’

20 May

This is a guest post by Georgina Bye. Follow her on twitter @georginabye

Having kept an eye on all the discussions going on in the ‘Changing the Board’ campaign I decided to stand as a Deputy for my local synagogue. It was due to the current Deputy’s encouragement that I came along to my first meeting as an observer in order to understand what exactly I had got myself into and boy was it an eye opener.

Looking around the room was enlightening and really proved the founding concerns behind the Changing the Board campaign. Yes we do have an ageing community, however, there is no way that the spectrum and diversity of the Jewish community was represented by those present.

Following a brief explanation of proceedings and of the voting process (STV) we were off. Although it seemed to the small group of newcomers I was sat with that we had a fundamental problem. None of us were sure about how to submit a question. With a little help from the Board’s twitter account we were back on track and closely following the candidates’ speeches and even more closely following their answers to questions from the floor. I must say there did seem to be a tendency for Deputies to make speeches and statements before actually submitting their questions.

Overall the candidates spoke well and all responded adequately to the questions posed. Denise Lester notably was the only candidate who actually addressed the issue of representation of smaller groups with under 100 members and mentioned the unaffiliated.

Each of the candidates spoke for five minutes and had five minutes to answer questions. It was then that votes were cast and we continued with the meeting, moving on to a report from the International division.

One key debate centred on Avigdor Lieberman’s upcoming visit to the UK. Although many other points were discussed and questions welcomed I was troubled by some of the attitudes and responses to some of the plenary points. Comments such as ‘there is no Palestine’ without any acknowledgment of Palestinian territories will only lead to more stilted discussions and greater fractures within our already fragmented community.

I was particularly disappointed at the extent to which religious divisions seemed to dominate the meeting rather than focusing on communal concerns.

I strongly believe that one of the main problems with the Board is that nobody outside of the Board really understands what it does, how it works and how it is relevant to the average Joe.

I think to begin with the Board needs to be clear about how meetings work: there is no excuse for not explaining basic procedure so as not to leave newcomers confused. In addition, I sincerely hope that when I come to my first meeting as a voter in June there will be some kind of induction and explanation as to how the Board functions, what divisions are and how to stand for them.

I must commend the advances that have come along as a result of this campaign, most notably the streaming of the event and large twitter presence. Despite the glitches with sound and video it’s a massive move in improving accessibility, transparency and hopefully, in the long run, accountability.

Congratulations to Laura Marks, Alex Brummer and Jonathan Arkush on their election and here’s to more change as we’ve still got a long way to go.

Georgina was writing about the Board of Deputies elections which took place earlier today. We’ll have more reaction on this in the coming days. For an early article from the Jewish Chronicle click here.

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