Board battles to rein in next generation

By Marcus Dysch, May 5, 2011
Wineman: "Leaders may be lost"

Wineman: "Leaders may be lost"

The long-term future of the Board of Deputies could be decided in the next year, as efforts to engage with younger community members reach a critical point.

Attempts to identify future leaders of the Jewish community, and involve younger people in the Board's work, have led to a "battle" among senior Board members.

While president Vivian Wineman and many of his vice-presidents accept the need to look ahead, the JC understands there is opposition to moves to engage with younger Jews.

Younger deputies say they fear that if the issue is not dealt with before the Board's next elections in May 2012, then the viability of the 250-year-old organisation could be compromised.

Mr Wineman admitted there was a "significant risk" that a generation of potential leaders could be lost.

One under-35 deputy said: "There is a battle within the Board itself. I've been told before that it's not my time, and senior people have been quite mean when I've tried to get involved."

When Mr Wineman was elected for a three-year term in May 2009, the poll was billed as "the most hotly-contested leadership election" in the organisation's history. Yet it produced an all-male executive made up largely of grey-haired lawyers over the age of 55.

About 18 months ago the Board installed around 35 people under the age of 35 as "observers", allowing them to attend plenary meetings, but stopping short of giving them a full vote.

The initiative has had limited success, with only a small portion of the group regularly attending meetings. Attempts to hold under-35s-only events have also been slow to get off the ground. There are only nine full deputies under the age of 35 - out of around 300.

Russell Collins, 31, briefly represented Shenley United Synagogue as an under-35 observer. He said: "I only went to one plenary meeting and immediately knew it wasn't for me.

"The form the meetings take, the way people engage with each other, it doesn't seem appropriate for our generation. There is so much out there that younger people are doing, and the Board is just one of the organisations that is slow picking up on it."

Among the proposals being discussed by Board staff and younger deputies are fringe meetings for under-35s, and an induction programme for new deputies, to explain the work of the Board's different divisions.

The JC also understands that at least one under-35 deputy is preparing to run for a vice-president's role in the 2012 election, and that efforts are being made to place younger prospective deputies in "'safe seats"' to represent shuls and community organisations.

Danny Stone, 30, deputy for the UJIA, said: "You can't have a young people's initiative just for the sake of it. The under-35s initiative has created a group of interested people who will go to meetings, but a few people starting to say 'we want more from this'."

Mr Wineman said the Board understood the "difficulty" of the situation. "We are prepared to change the rules to get more young people involved. I don't think we are sufficiently engaged. We cannot afford to be complacent."

Last updated: 10:06am, May 5 2011