Board of Deputies is courting the youth vote

By Simon Rocker, January 12, 2012

Board of Deputies joint vice-president Jerry Lewis has launched an initiative to give the vote to under-35s acting as observers before the next triennial elections in summer.

Three years ago, the Board introduced a scheme enabling synagogues or organisations that already have a seat at the Board to send an additional representative aged under 35 as an observer without an additional affiliation fee.

To date, about 40 observers have taken up the offer to attend Board meetings.

But Mr Lewis says that allowing them to vote would complete the process he instigated of giving the Board a younger face.

"I hope this will make them more emboldened to get involved in the work of the Board, rather than just sitting and observing," he said.

"It is a marvellous opportunity. They will have a better chance of having their voices heard and participating in the governance of the community", argued Mr Lewis. He needs to collect 50 signatures in support of the idea to put forward a constitutional amendment.

The Board's efforts to rejuvenate itself received a bonus this week with two more youth movements - Bnei Akiva and Habonim Dror - agreeing to join.

Bnei Akiva director Alex Cohen explained that "rather than merely commenting or complaining about aspects of Anglo-Jewry, we wanted to get involved. Bnei Akiva appreciates that it is important to have a strong youth presence on the Board."

Habonim's London fieldworker, Jem Stein, said that, "as the democratically elected, representative body of our community, we all have a stake in the Board. In this important forum, it is vital that the voice of the Jewish youth is heard."

Board president Vivian Wineman said "the admission of two of the country's largest youth movements is a step in the right direction and I look forward to working with them to promote the representation of their members and other young people."

Elsewhere, Reform chief executive Ben Rich has urged the movement's members to be more willing to stand for office at the Board.

In a circular this week, he wrote: "The Board of Deputies is the voice of the Jewish community.

"Its values and pronouncements must, therefore, reflect those of the whole community. But we cannot expect it to do so if we do not engage with it seriously."

Last updated: 1:07pm, January 12 2012