How Board is moving forward
Change is difficult. Everyone knows this, but few appreciate just how difficult until they are caught up in it. The Board of Deputies is in the process of radical change - and, inevitably, not everyone will accept or understand it.
The Board has always had the responsibility of representing the community, either defensively by fighting antisemitism and protecting Jewish practices such as shechita, or in a positive fashion - for example, promoting Jewish education.
In the past few years we have launched a plethora of new projects, including the Community Partnership Project, bringing much-needed support to small communities, and the Women's Commission. We have launched guidelines against hate speech on campus and the Grow Project; fostered the establishment of the Late Applicants Fund by the Claims Conference to obtain justice for heirs to Holocaust property, and undertaken interfaith work, recently with the Church of Scotland, the Methodists and the Quakers.
In addition, the Board was instrumental in setting up Milah UK to protect religious circumcision; it continues to administer the Cross-Communal Group (the Stanmore Accords) to allow different streams of Judaism to interact with each other, and has now set up a new forum where representatives of all synagogal bodies meet the Board's executive to discuss issues of common concern.
There are always those who resent change
Work on education continues, administering Pikuach (the inspectorate of religious education in Jewish schools), protecting rights of students and teachers over festivals, as well as liaising with the Charedi community to a greater extent than ever before.
All have one common denominator: the Board is the communal address for interfaith work, overseas communities, government departments, universities and other organisations. It is the forum in which all the different denominations in the community can meet in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Never in the history of the Board has there been so much activity in so many areas.
At the same time, we have sought to modernise internal procedures by making them more open and less dominated by a few deputies. Such changes, particularly regarding our monthly plenary sessions, command broad support. Nevertheless, there are bound to be deputies, particularly garrulous ones ,who resent change, invoking arguments based on imaginary constitutional points. This is unfortunate, but we are a forward-thinking organisation that must operate accordingly. The cornerstone of the Board's work is its democratic structure. Those who do not accept this need to rethink what they are bringing to the communal table.
I am not going to refute the many inaccurate charges, some quite outrageous, made by Jerry Lewis, who was defeated in last year's vice-presidential election. I will comment, however, on his statements about the Jewish Leadership Council, an excellent umbrella body that brings together the main organisations of the community. Its mandate is to support these organisations - including the Board - which it does most effectively. It is no secret that talks are progressing with the JLC to change the communal architecture, which may only possibly result in a merger.
Whatever the result, the Board needs to increase the involvement of its deputies. It also needs staff who can deliver. We have now appointed an outstanding public affairs director and an experienced human resources director. We are in the process of appointing a dynamic professional team. Staff turnover is a normal part of organisational life and is rarely easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
In carrying out these changes, the Board is not merely the representative of the community, but also its mirror. It reflects a community that exists not merely because of antisemitism and anti-Israel agitation, but also because of pride in its heritage, faith and rich culture. This is an open invitation to support us and help make things happen.
Vivian Wineman is president of the Board of Deputies