Can we move out from under the shadow of the Shoah?

7 Mar

This is a guest post by Neville Sassienie, Deputy for the Movement for Reform Judaism and chair of the Board’s Social Action Group

I am so excited by the posts on the Changing the Board website. The need to broaden the definition of what concerns us as a community and the need to operate effectively in the spaces where decisions are made, are two of the myriads of ideas to be found there. (Can we not post these also on the Board website?)

There is no doubt that the Board has begun to move in the last few years. The under-35 Observers, the working group to increase women involvement, Changing the Board itself with representation on the Executive, the strategic review by the Executive and the organisation review by the Finance and Organisation Division are some examples.

I will add the Grow Tatzmiach Oxfam project which was lead by BoDSA (the Board’s Social Action Group) which I Chair. The debate at the Board’s plenary meeting has been widely commended but I think its significance goes beyond that. The project is outward-looking, involves partnering with another non-Jewish agency with whom we do not always agree, involves training (for Deputies) and core Jewish values.

Let’s not beat about the bush, it was about the 925 million people (one in eight of the world’s population) who go to bed hungry each night. It was also (I believe) the first time that the perceived threat to Israel, which I believe is linked to memories of the Shoah, was not decisive in the debate of an adjacent issue.

I am humbled by the freshness, depth and variety of the ideas coming from Changing the Board. I realise it is due to the youth and professionalism of its members. It has shed new light on the deficiencies in the operation of the plenary meetings and the Divisions. The age profile of the Board (of which being in my 80s I am a prime example) is a major obstacle to future change. Historically we are largely comprised of Deputies who have already given long and valuable service to their communities. We experienced two of the most monumental events of Jewish history – the Shoah and the foundation of the State of Israel. It is not surprising that while they are both absolutely central concerns, linking these emotionally often affects, and I think narrows, our priorities for communal concerns.

Clearly we should extend the under-35 representation and give full rights. Can we find ways to make membership more appealing to them (and older people)? Plenaries have not been good value for leisure time. Enlarging the involvement of Deputies in the actual work of the Board is being promoted by Laura Marks in her Division. Training in ‘community organising’ would open new skills and fill a gap in synagogues.

We also need better ways to identify specialist skills to link them to the work of the Divisions and working groups. We should embrace those which are offered by the Jewish Leadership Council and working more closely, see whether these could be extended to a resource of specialists and professionals who could be called on to work with Deputies on particular projects.

I have left to the last our main resource – the staff. Should they not have time allocated to participate more prominently at revamped plenaries lead by our Chief Executive?


One Response to “Can we move out from under the shadow of the Shoah?”


  1. Sussex takes on Strasbourg | Gabrielquotes - March 21, 2013

    […] had our own ‘parliament’ in the Board of Deputies for 250 years yet we’re still no closer to reaching an agreement, not even on that most basic and crucial aspect of a conspiracy: deciding […]

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