Board celebrates 250th anniversary

One for the birds: David Shilling addresses Sunday’s celebration

One for the birds: David Shilling addresses Sunday’s celebration

Past and present members of the Board of Deputies were a hat-maker's dream as they arrived at the organisation's 250th anniversary celebration on Sunday in fedoras, panamas, bowlers, an Ajex beret and even a top hat adorned with peacock feathers.

The 200-plus guests were honouring the request of the late Gertrude Shilling, a deputy known for the extravagant millinery creations she wore annually to the Royal Ascot race meeting.

Before her death 10 years ago, Mrs Shilling agreed to leave a legacy to the Board on the understanding that the money be used to stage a party, complete with hats.

It was no surprise that the most distinctive headgear was sported by her son, designer David Shilling, who attended in his Ascot finery.

‘Some of the sharpest brains in Anglo-Jewry’

"At last we have made this party happen in her memory," he said. "It's very important that as Jews in the diaspora, we focus on the contributions we have made.

"I was very moved coming here today and seeing everyone. I think my mother would have been appalled by the rise in antisemitism and the rise of Islamic extremism. We all need to stick together."

Following courtyard drinks at Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London, the birthplace of the Board in 1760, deputies moved indoors for a special meeting addressed by the lay leaders of every denominational group in British Jewry.

Rabbi Abraham Levy, head of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, pointed out that marking anniversaries at Bevis Marks was a longstanding tradition. For example, after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the Battle of Waterloo 10 years later, deputies had gathered at the shul to give thanks.

From the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, Joe Lobenstein read an excerpt from a 1950s' JC review of the Board's activities, in which he was described as the "enfant terrible".

Reform Judaism chair Stephen Moss said: "There has never been a more important time for the Board to offer leadership by consensus-building.

"The Board has a distinguished record of representing the whole community and must be congratulated on its work over the past 250 years."

Occupying a front row pew, Leila Blairman, deputy for Maidenhead, said she felt "very privileged to be here because 250 years ago people had the foresight to create a Board of Deputies".

But the Board needed to move forward into the 21st century by engaging with younger people and encouraging more women to seek election to executive positions.

David Lewis, the deputy for Hull Hebrew Congregation for three years, said: "I find coming to these meetings among the most wonderful and exciting times in my life. To come into a forum like this, with some of the sharpest brains in Anglo-Jewry, is quite an eye-opener."

Jewish historian Raphael Langham signed copies of his newly published history of the Board, 250 Years of Convention and Contention, which will be formally launched at the House of Lords next month.

Other highlights of the 250th anniversary programme will include a conference exploring the history of Jews in Britain, a gala dinner and a nationwide Shabbaton.

Last updated: 11:13am, June 25 2010