Leaders don't grow on trees

By Ben Ullmann and Simi Ben Hur , June 7, 2012
Follow The JC on Twitter

Make a list of current Anglo-Jewish leaders. Now rewind a few decades. How many of the names on your list would you have predicted would now be in those positions?

Consider Gerald Ronson, a self-made businessman who fought fascists on the streets in the 1960s, built the Community Security Trust, and has given over £40 million to charitable causes. He never received "leadership training"; he just took it upon himself to lead.

Or Mick Davis, UJIA chairman and prime mover behind the JLC. Mick came to Britain in 1997, when he was 38. You might have predicted him to be a leader of South African Jewry (which he was) but his move here was not related to his communal involvement. It was a decision that was our good fortune - but fortune all the same.

Or Laura Marks, founder of Mitzvah Day and now senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies. Mitzvah Day has become an annual fixture and inspired similar "days" in other faiths, but less than a decade ago it did not exist and Marks was not on the radar.

Adam Science understood that leaders must be identified at an early age

Trevor Pears and his family are now among the most influential philanthropists in the Jewish community - and indeed in British society at large. The influence of the Pears Foundation - the result of a then-unknown successful family's generosity and sense of duty, which inspired them to transform Jewish life in Britain - was unpredictable 20 years ago.

Clearly, you can't always predict who will become leaders. But that does not mean we should simply sit on our hands and hope that the stork brings us another generation of leaders wrapped in white cloth.

If we are to keep the promise of a vibrant Jewish life for our children and grandchildren then we must attend to the vital task of ensuring that our future generations of leaders are of a high calibre.

We should be thankful to those, in the past and now, who have selflessly taken on the mantle of leadership, but that ought not to be the norm. It's just too risky.

One of Anglo-Jewry's most successful means of meeting this challenge lies in the Adam Science Foundation leadership programme. Its core principle is that strong leadership must be cultivated, encouraged early and weaved into the DNA of our institutional bodies. To deliver this, those involved in the programme are guided by the story of our inspiration, Adam Science himself.

Adam, who was a community leader, had his life tragically cut short as a result of a car accident. His legacy lives on through the foundation that bears his name, created and sustained through the commitment of his family and friends. Adam understood that communities need leaders and that they must be identified at an early age. A contemporary of his, Steven Lewis, chairman of Jewish Care, has spoken of Adam as his inspiration.

Adam Science teaches young professionals about the key challenges facing Anglo-Jewry, in order that they can shape their personal vision with a view to taking up leadership positions within new or existing communal organisations. Each year, the programme recruits up to 12 people from a diverse range of careers, religious affiliations and backgrounds.

Its "matchmaking" service links skilled graduates to communal organisations in need of their expertise. Many Adam Science alumni now hold significant lay leadership roles. It also aims to provide space for generating new ideas and creative debate, through its association with LEAD, the hub of leadership excellence in the Jewish community

Adam Science doesn't create leaders. It finds them and makes them great. That is our role and our promise to Anglo-Jewry. This is what we will be celebrating next week at our 20th anniversary gala. We do not seek fanfare, only the recognition that excellence in Jewish leadership is an ingredient of communal life too important to leave to chance.

Our community has survived until now but we might not always be so lucky. And we can always improve. You don't have to have Adam Science to develop great leaders, but it helps.

Ben Ullmann and Simi Ben Hur are the co-chairs of Adam Science Alumni

Ben Ullmann and Simi Ben Hur are the co-chairs of Adam Science Alumni

Last updated: 2:03pm, June 7 2012