Second woman enters vice-presidency race

By Simon Rocker, February 23, 2012
Denise Lester

Denise Lester

A second woman is to stand for the vice-presidency of the Board of Deputies following Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks's decision to enter the ring.

South Hampstead Synagogue member Denise Lester, who has 12 years' experience on the Board, will contest one of the three vice-presidential posts in the spring elections.

Two of the current vice-presidents, Jonathan Arkush and Jerry Lewis, are eligible for a second three-year term. The vice-chairman of the international division, Alex Brummer, has indicated that he may also bid for the vice-presidency.

Ms Lester, a family solicitor, was 34 when she became a deputy for the United Synagogue in 1994, going on to represent South Hampstead until 2000. After a break, she was re-elected for her synagogue in 2006 and is currently a member of the Board's defence division.

"I was asked to put myself forward for this before the New Year and am conscious of the responsibility of the role, so did not throw my hat into the ring immediately," she said. "Now that there has been press about potential candidates, I am happy for the public to know of my decision, which was not made lightly as I have an active professional career."

She cited her work as president of the West London Law Society and chair of the Law Society's children's law committee as "some demonstration that I can assume a leadership role as an honorary officer and deal with wider communal affairs".

The emergence of a second woman candidate for senior office comes after a concerted campaign by the Board to encourage more female and youth representatives. Only a quarter of the 264 deputies are women - a fact highlighted by the Jewish Leadership Council's commission on women and Jewish leadership, which Ms Marks chairs.

But on Sunday, the Board rejected a proposal to grant voting rights to under-35-year-old observers.

In a move to lower its age profile, the Board three years ago allowed constituent organisations to send an additional representative aged under 35 as an observer.

The proposal to give them the vote received support from Mr Lewis, who said that the increased number of under-35s who attended through the observer scheme had "brought new life to the Board, enhanced our debates and given us new direction".

But the move was attacked as a "bad idea" by Jonathan Sacerdoti, a full voting delegate of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation - and at 32, one of the younger faces on the Board.

He argued that the way to attract younger participation was not by reserving places for an age group, but by making the Board"more relevant".

The Board did agree to double the number of deputies from the Union of Jewish Students from six to 12.

Another proposal to prevent deputies standing for senior office unless they had served two years on the Board was shelved after the constitution committee ruled it had been submitted too late.

Had it been passed, it would have effectively stopped Ms Marks standing for office since she has only been on the Board for a few weeks.

    Last updated: 3:34pm, February 23 2012