April 15, 2011
‘No way’ shrieked this incredulous Manchester accountant just a few weeks ago down my phone, ‘you cannot be a Vice President – you’re too young and still have all your faculties, the rep council is for old people, its just a talking shop’.
I had sent him an email inviting him to JnetManchester, a new initiative by the Manchester Jewish Representative Council for Jewish and non-Jewish business people and professionals to meet, eat, do deals and network.
With several leading companies as our sponsors and groups for JnetManchester on both Facebook and the business online social networking site, Linkedin, this looks like being a very exciting initiative which will add value to the work of the Council.
The first meeting on 12 October at the Maccabi Sports Complex in Prestwich is being graced with the Mayors of Bury and Salford as well as the Lord Mayor of Manchester.
Our main headline speaker has not yet been secured but we hope to make a big announcement very soon.
Jews are great at networking as that’s what Shools are for, isn’t it? No! You mean people go to what? Pray, really. And then there is the Kiddush for some wheeling, dealing and loshen hora.
Business networking is not new. Twelve years ago with our first dot com my wife and I attended First Tuesday where internet web geeky types and web designers met budding entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Those were heady and exciting times with some hairy investing.
Today networking has evolved from physical events such as JnetManchester, which is an evening forum, to online business social networking sites such as Linkedin and Facebook to name just two. There are many more and they are easy to join and navigate, but be warned that the internet is a perception and not every one, or no one, tells the truth.
Meanwhile back to the ‘Comical Council’. My grandfather, Isaac Samuels, who died in 1931, was a member of the Manchester Communal Council. I don’t know (as the records are in the temporarily closed Central Library) whom he represented, I suspect it was either the Benevolent Society or the Polish Jewish Burial Society where he served as treasurer for many years according to the plaque in the Ohel at Manchester’s Urmston Cemetery.
He was succeeded in this and other roles at Urmston by his son in law, Simon (Sam) Jaffe, not only at the Polish Burial Society but at the Communal Council. Sam Jaffe represented the Manchester Shechita Board and was not only my uncle but the uncle of the indefatigable Baigel brothers.
From the age of six until about fourteen I spent almost every Friday night and Shabbat with the Jaffe family. Raie Jaffe was my father’s sister and, as my mother had died very young and my father insisted on working on Shabbat, that’s where I was parked.
The Jaffes were a traditionally orthodox family with wonderful copious Friday night dinners followed by lots of tooth-rotting sweets like sherbet fizz. Shabbat (or Shabbos as we called it) mornings saw me and Uncle Sam going to Crumpsall Shool where he took up his rightful place on the front row. Chazan Hershman would be supported by the choir and Rabbi Rappaport would deliver, to me, incomprehensible sermons.
Inevitably conversation turned to both shool and communal politics and so this became my introduction to the Communal Council and subliminally some of it must have stuck.
In about 1972 my very close friend, the late Peter Weltman, introduced me to Bnei Brith. In early 1974 I slipped two discs and was admitted to the Jewish Hospital where a 10 pound weight was suspended from both legs in a vain attempt to persuade the discs to return to their original place between my vertebrae. Stubbornly they remained slipped and were appropriately removed. This episode immobilised me for about ten weeks but Peter, bless him, visited most days.
We shared a common love of Israel and discussed how we would change that country and also as socialists (Peter had been a Communist at some period in his youth) we would change British politics. We feared the rise of the National Front, the forerunner of the BNP, which Peter was really concerned about having himself been part of the Kindertransport from his native Germany.
Our conclusions were that both the Communal Council and the Board of Deputies didn’t understand the serious rise in these Nazi activists and we should bring the Bnei Brith Anti Defamation League, based in Washington, to the UK to save us all.
International Vice President, John Simon, and his friend Harry Kingsley were summoned to my bedside by Peter and a plot was hatched to save British Jews and bring back the Yanks.
When Martin Savitt, the then chairman of the Board of Deputies Defence Committee, and Lionel Freedman, the revered chairman of the Manchester Communal Council Defence and Public Relations committee, learned of my initiative they were seriously opposed (the Board still are) and I was eventually co-opted by both august organisations and found myself sitting, very proudly with Uncle Sam at a Communal Council meeting in the Jewish Workingmen’s Club in Bennett Road, Crumpsall.
There I met some like-minded socialist Jewish activists, especially Martin Bobker and Joe Clyne, and I was so proud when they came to my home for tea and indoctrination.
Eventually the Manchester Communal Council changed its name to the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region, a title obviously devised by a committee. Many call it the rep council, and others refer to it as the, JRC GMR which sounds to me like some government quango.
Over the years countless good men and women have given copious amounts of time and energy to the Council coming from all walks of life from local and international business people, eminent lawyers and accountants, doctors and teachers. University professors and just ordinary communally concerned regular Jews.
But what the heck do these people do?
Well, the late Henry Guterman, a dapper man often sporting a bow tie, was the daddy of Inter Faith. He really did bring walls together and got the Jews talking to the Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Catholics, C of E, you name it. When he died it was discovered that he sat on about 24 committees and the work, some of which he was chastised for, was in fact essential and the groundbreaking initiatives that he started and the partnerships that he forged required a veritable army of people not only to continue but to build upon.
This work is a massive part of the Representative Council’s activities and includes Police committees and educational courses.
Guterman changed the course in communal understanding and respect and the British Jewish community could never repay what he started. He sometimes let his enthusiasm take over and it was often difficult to keep him quiet but time has proven that he was quite amazing.
The Year Book is a huge source of knowledge and information and sits on, or close by, the desks of many people and organisations nationally. The dedicated team who produce this annual publication provide the Council with its main source of income from supporters and advertiser’s that help us to maintain our offices and the two lovely secretaries who provide us with their expertise and experience and ensure that we all do what we have to do when we have to do it.
Annually Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated by another dedicated team who ensure that this historic tragedy is marked with dignity.
Socially there is a quiz about November time, and as many as twenty-two teams compete for the Leslie Donn trophy. Sponsorship for this event has been a problem over the past couple of years as we were promised sponsorship money which failed to materialise but everyone has a great time and the competition is fierce.
Manchester has several large University Campuses and during 2010 there have been very serious problems with anti Israel and anti Zionist groups. The current dynamic and committed President Lucille Cohen, The Zionist Central Council, the Union of Jewish Students and the Board of Deputies and several prominent individuals have been pivotal in agreeing with the University of Manchester a code of practice which goes a very long way to securing the wellbeing of our students nationally whilst maintaining everyone’s democratic right to free speech.
The more orthodox and so called ‘ultra orthodox’ are now working closer with the Council especially on the current threats against Shechita and we the welcome them and the involvement of Rabbi Yehuda Brodie from the Manchester Beth Din working with us to protect common areas of concern.
Delegate organisations are being urged, and actively encouraged, to send younger members to our meetings. These people are joining in and playing their part in our future. In web design, in marketing, in inter faith and the many other facets of our work. Older long serving members are being rewarded and their past commitments recognised whilst they are still welcomed to our meetings.
So the ‘Comical Council’ is officially dead. The Manchester Jewish Representative Council’s work continues by very dedicated volunteers.
Today we need focus groups of young, dedicated teams who will channel their individual talents to use for the benefit of the community.
Companies and individuals support us with the sponsorship of events such as JnetManchester, Holocaust Memorial, the Quiz and of course the annual Year Book. This support coupled with affiliation fees from charities, Synagogues, welfare organisations and other bodies ensure that the work continues.
We are NOT a closed shop and actively encourage people to come forward, as I did all those years ago. Sit and listen to the older generation, learn, speak out and focus their talents for the future of Manchester Jewry.