Manchester united on leadership needs

Benjy Black

Benjy Black

A shortage of new communal leaders, particularly women, is largely the result of changes in working lifestyles, say two of Manchester's rising stars. But it is a problem they are endeavouring to confront.

Kate Moryoussef and Benjy Black are graduates of a local UJIA lay leadership course, designed to bolster the numbers able to administer communal infrastructure in the UK's second largest Jewish community.

Regional UJIA chief Andrew Joseph acknowledges that the current generation "finds it much more difficult to balance their working lives and commit to communal causes in the same way that my generation did".

And Ms Moryoussef, a PR executive, points out: "There is more to contend with in life, especially from a woman's perspective.

"In our generation women are much more busy - most of us need to work while juggling lives around young children. Few of us are homemakers anymore, with that free time that was spent in my parent's generation working on committees or arranging coffee mornings."

On the plus side, she believes working women can bring a professional element to volunteer work. The mother-of-two's working life involves handling the PR accounts of dozens of Manchester's Jewish charities and she hopes to work with organisations to enthuse more young people about communal activity.

"I've only just started to find my feet in communal activism. It's difficult to get people to say: 'I'm busy but I've still got time to do something.' It requires a change in mentality and making volunteering a lifestyle."

Benjy Black, a human resources manager for oil giant Shell, is focusing on galvanising Manchester's social scene for single young professionals.

The Didsbury 27-year-old has just started a committee called Kef (meaning fun in Hebrew), which attracted more than 300 twentysomethings to a bar night at Salford Quays. He says the UJIA course has helped with his Israel advocacy.

Mr Black is also working with grandchildren of Holocaust survivors to develop educational tools for teaching it in non-Jewish schools.

"I've been getting hot under the collar about the level of Jewish people who are condemning Israel. You just have to look at Gerald Kaufman here in Manchester.

"Young people feel in the current financial climate they have to get on with their working lives, but there is still communal stuff like Israel advocacy that needs to be done.

"For about a year there haven't been events to draw in young professionals since some other committees stopped functioning." The plan is for Kef is to broaden its activities with high profile speakers. A difficult job market has meant more people staying in Manchester after university. The challenge was getting them involved.

"If we want young Jewish people to live in Manchester, we need to provide activities that match the diversity there is in London's Jewish community," Mr Black adds. "But we can show people a better quality of life here."

    Last updated: 3:45pm, April 22 2011