Sephardi rift sparks leadership battle

Sephardi leaders face a vote of confidence in the first elections since the aborted appointment of a new spiritual head.

The rift among members of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation over the attempted recruitment of Rabbi David Bassous - who withdrew in January - appears to have had one silver lining. It is the number of candidates fighting this month's lay leadership elections.

Seats on the mahamad (executive) and board of elders have rarely been contested in recent years.

Now six members are competing for three vacant seats on the mahamad and as many as 10 for four places on the elders.

Adam Musikant, the chairman of the mahamad, and Susan Kandel are both seeking a fresh term of office. Three of the elders are standing again.

The mahamad and elders had recommended the appointment of London-born Rabbi Bassous, now in New Jersey, to succeed Rabbi Abraham Levy as spiritual head.

But a group of around 20 congregants, calling themselves "concerned members", raised objections, believing Rabbi Bassous to be too religiously right-wing.

In a poll of members, Rabbi Bassous won exactly the two-thirds majority required to secure the post. But the concerned members argued that a ballot paper originally declared doubtful was in fact a vote against him and therefore his appointment was invalid. As the dispute escalated, Rabbi Bassous pulled out.

One of the leaders of the concerned members' group, Alan Bekhor, is now standing for the board of elders. "We've got to put the controversy behind us and try to move on as a united congregation," he said.

Another signatory to the concerned members' statements, Joyce Misrahi, has put her name forward for the mahamad.

Candidates for the board of elders include Anthony Tricot, who has been involved with the Sephardi young professionals' group, Bendigamos, and biblical Hebrew teacher Rachel Montagu, who once served as a Reform rabbi. Also standing is the chairman of the community's building fund, David Ereira.

The Electoral Reform Society will supervise the postal and online ballot, which closes on March 29.

    Last updated: 7:42pm, March 8 2012