Sephardim hope for fresh start after elections

Sephardi leaders hope to put recent troubles behind them and make a fresh start in finding a new spiritual head after changes to the executive and board of elders.

Several new faces, including 26-year-old Anthony Tricot - believed to be one of the congregation's youngest ever elders - have joined the top table of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation in one of its most keenly fought elections in recent history.

It followed months of dispute within the community over the failure to recruit Rabbi David Bassous as its new spiritual head - and over the retirement this summer of the existing head, Rabbi Abraham Levy, two years before the end of his contract.

London-born Rabbi Bassous, who runs a congregation in New Jersey, had been recommended by the previous mahamad (executive) and elders. But he withdrew after the result of a congregants' ballot to approve him was challenged by an opposition group known as the "concerned members".

Adam Musikant, who chaired the mahamad during the episode, won a resounding vote of confidence by topping the ballot for the three vacant executive seats, contested by six candidates. Fellow mahamad member Susan Kandel was also re-elected, pipping Barbara Simons by four votes after a recount. Peter Fraiman, who came second in the poll, joins the executive team.

Mr Musikant looked forward "to working with our new colleagues in moving the congregation forward in a consensual and united manner. The board will convene after Pesach to confirm plans for finding our new leader."

No fewer than 10 candidates competed for four elders' places,+ with the ballot topped by David Ereira, chairman of the building fund, who is seen as an ally of the previous executive.

Mr Tricot, who runs Bendigamos, the group for young Sephardim, wants "to make the Spanish and Portuguese community relevant to the Facebook generation. We must draw on the success of Bendigamos in attracting a wide range of people, including Ashkenazi and unaffiliated Jews, to our community and in emphasising our traditional yet inclusive Sephardic culture."

Daniel Ettinghausen was re-elected to the elders, but Stuart Morganstein lost his seat. Concerned members leader Alan Bekhor was in fourth place, but he will be forced to step aside because of a constitutional quirk. According to the community's rules, there must be a representative from each of Lauderdale Road, Wembley Sephardi and Bevis Marks on the elders.

Since this condition would not have been otherwise met, Kris Musikant from Bevis Marks - the mother of Adam Musikant - retains her seat on the elders, having finished only fifth in the election.

But, unlike the ill-fated ballot over Rabbi Bassous, the results should not be challenged. The poll was supervised by the Electoral Reform Society.

New mahamad chairman Howard Martin appreciated that there were "different views but we hope we can bring them together".

Last updated: 12:12pm, April 6 2012