'I can do more as an organiser than as a politician'

By Jessica Elgot, March 17, 2011
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James Green, 28, once had political ambitions and stood as a Labour candidate in Cheltenham. But he became disillusioned with the political arena. Now working in education and as a volunteer community organiser, he believes he is making a real difference to his community. The New North London Synagogue member is closely involved with Marom, Masorti's young adult programme, which is a founder member of North London Citizens.

"I grew up in the world of Jewish youth movements and heated political debate over the Friday night dinner table," he recalls. "Religion and politics were always on the agenda and wanting to change the world was just a fact of life. I guess I never lost that youthful idealism that with the right approach and sheer hard work you can make a difference.

"It was that desire to change things that led me into politics. I didn't win but the experience was a life-changing one that left me feeling frustrated but also inspired. I left with a strong sense that politics has become too focused on pitting politician against politician rather than supporting ordinary people. Then I discovered community organising.

"It's a tried and tested method of congregational renewal, leadership development and social action. At its heart lies the idea that by building an alliance of different organisations, civil society can effect real change on the ground.

"The principles relate closely to Jewish values. So organising emphasises the importance of the one-to-one [chevruta], why turnout and a strong sense of self-identity are crucial [minyan], how to manage creative conflict and debate [mahloket], and how, through a shared agenda, we can fulfil our obligations to society [mitzvah]. But it's not really surprising because the movement was created and in many cases continued by Jews.Despite that, organising has yet to be adopted on a significant scale within Anglo-Jewry. I hope the founding of the north London branch of Citizens UK means that will change. It's Jews, Muslims, Christians, students, trade unionists and many others working together for the common good. It's inspiring."

Last updated: 11:39am, March 17 2011