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Sacks stays on top, as new names emerge
Today we reveal the top spots in our second annual list of those who wield the greatest influence on British Jewry, as chosen by JC readers and an expert independent panel representing all strands of community life. Over the next four pages we profile numbers 1-30 on our list, recap those from 31-100, and suggest some names to watch for the future. The chairman of our judging panel, Ben Rich, explains the guidelines for inclusion, or indeed exclusion, which may help clarify why some well-known personalities do not feature. With hundreds of nominations, there was impassioned debate by our panel over the composition of the list. As with last year, there was regret at the lack of women and younger people, but the judges wanted to avoid tokenism.
And the winner is...
Sir Jonathan Sacks
1 (Last year: 1)
It has been a good year for the Chief Rabbi, who turned 60 in March, and perhaps one of his best since taking office in 1991. Tens of thousands of copies have been sold of his edition of the Singer’s Prayer Book since its publication nearly a year-and-a-half ago. Extracts of his most recent book, The Home We Build Together — a critique of the excesses of multiculturalism and a recipe for social cohesion — appeared in The Times. Around 200,000 copies of his newly released double CD, Home of Hope, “a journey of music and words” to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary, have been distributed within the Jewish world with demands pouring in for editions in Hebrew and Russian. His musical choice for the discs, encompassing contemporary Israeli pop as well as chazanut —not to mention his appearance in a YouTube promotional video — demonstrates a rapport with younger listeners. At a time when religion has come under increasingly hostile attack from atheist hardliners, Sir Jonathan has consolidated his reputation as a rational and eloquent spokesman for people of faith through his broadcasts and newspaper columns. In an interview with The Times last year, he described himself as “the acceptable face of fundamentalism” — a reference to his Orthodox commitment. But it is a fundamentalism tempered by a highly cultured mind that opposes refuge in religious sectarianism and champions participation in the wider world. Few can match his gift for drawing insights from the Bible into contemporary society and communicating them to a broad audience. And unlike the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, whose remarks on sharia law had commentators frothing earlier this year, he has stepped well clear of potential banana skins.
Gerald Ronson 2 (2)
Still the community’s top philanthropist — he estimates that he has donated up to £40 million — Gerald Ronson has a deserved reputation for making things happen and refusing to be cowed by adversity. He rebuilt his Heron property empire from the brink of collapse and restored his standing in the Jewish and business worlds after being jailed for his part in the Guinness shares scandal. Age has not diminished his commitment to commercial and charitable endeavours. The 68-year-old says he works “an 80- or 90-hour week”, 20 per cent devoted to philanthropic activity. Pet projects are the Community Security Trust and the cross-communal Jewish Community Secondary School planned in East Barnet. He believes that JCoSS will be crucial to re-engaging those “who otherwise will be lost to our community”.
Trevor Pears 3 (4)
The publicity-shy property player moved from the family business to head its charitable foundation, which has given over £25 million to Jewish and other causes at home and abroad — from Action Aid Congo to the Holocaust Educational Trust. Considered the most interesting of the new breed of givers, Mr Pears prefers first-hand involvement in charitable ventures to leadership positions within the community. He says that he has the motivation — and, with the backing of his family, he also has the time. An example of the “creative agenda” highlighted by our judges is the Social Action Hub at the West Hampstead offices of the Pears group, which has been created to back innovative groups and individuals.
Dame Vivien Duffield 4 (10)
The highest-placed woman in the list has tied her colours to the mast of Britain’s first Jewish Community Centre, the ambitious London project planned to open in Finchley Road in 2011. Inspired by Manhattan’s successful and inclusive community centre, Dame Vivien involved her Clore Duffield Foundation, which has carried on the family tradition of philanthropy established by her late father, Sir Charles Clore. Her own spiritual guidance was from another advocate of inclusiveness, the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn. She has generously supported the Clore Shalom primary schools, Nightingale House and Jewish Care and established educational centres at the Tate Modern, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. Money has also been distributed to schemes to enhance Jewish life outside of the capital.
An effective Board of Deputies president, albeit ruling by consensus. His advocacy and oratorical skills, honed as a criminal barrister, come in handy in his discussions with government, presiding over Board meetings and speeches he delivers to a wide range of organisations. Mr Grunwald, 58, has been a Board member for over 25 years, chairs the Jewish Leadership Council and holds senior roles with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the European Jewish Congress. He is a Hampstead Synagogue warden.
Rabbi Tony Bayfield 6 (6)
Seen as a positive figurehead for the Movement for Reform Judaism, Britain’s second-largest synagogal group, the affable 61-year-old has a particular interest in interfaith matters. Theological differences with Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks have not precluded a friendship which dates back to their Cambridge days (Rabbi Bayfield read law and had a doctoral place at the Cambridge Institute for Criminology). After training at Leo Baeck College, he was minister at North-West Surrey Synagogue before being appointed director of the Sternberg Centre in Finchley. He has received a Lambeth degree from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Sir Howard Bernstein 7 (New)
The highest new entrant in 2008, the chief executive of Manchester City Council, which he joined as junior clerk, has been the power behind Community First, an Mancunian initiative to plan effectively for the future of the city’s Jewish population. Described as a proud if not hugely religious Jew, Sir Howard, 55, has the happy knack of being able to get things done. For example, he was instrumental in the regeneration of the city centre after the IRA bombing in 1996 and was central to Manchester’s successful bid for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The sports fan has also helped a number of leisure projects to fruition, as well as the establishment of Metrolink, the UK’s first on-street public-transport system. His knighthood was for services to Manchester.
Rabbi Avraham Pinter 8 (New)
A major omission from last year’s list, our panel agreed, Rabbi Pinter is known and admired as a bridge between the strictly Orthodox and the wider Jewish and general community. An astute and media-friendly educator and political operator, he is the first port of call for government departments, councils and journalists seeking the Charedi viewpoint. As principal of the Yesodey Hatorah schools in Stamford Hill, the former Hackney Labour councillor fought a difficult but ultimately victorious battle to win state aid for Yesodey Hatorah senior girls’ school. Evidence of Rabbi Pinter’s pulling power was that Tony Blair addressed the formal opening of the school’s £14 million campus in 2006 — with Lord Levy, Gerald Ronson and Richard Desmond among his audience. He also represents Charedi interests on the London Jewish Forum.
Lord Levy 9 (3)
A fundraiser par excellence for Tony Blair and Jewish Care, his influence has been diluted with the change of occupancy at Number 10, not least because he had served as Mr Blair’s personal Middle East envoy. But the rot had set in before then, given the peer’s revelation in his new biography, A Question of Honour, that he was “upset and angry with Tony” on discovering that the then PM had turned to venture-capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen for fundraising help before the 2005 election. Better news for Lord Levy, 63, was that the police did not press charges against him over their investigation into the “cash for peerages” affair. The allegations had caused “damage and aggravation to me and my family,” he said. “But it’s over now, thank goodness.”
Ron Prosor 10 (New)
A more visible and dynamic presence than his predecessor, Zvi Heifetz, Ron Prosor has hit the ground running as Israel’s London envoy, presenting its case forcefully in the mainstream while adept at ambassadorial glad-handing at communal events. Until mid-2006, Mr Prosor was director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Before this he was senior deputy director general and chief of policy staff to the Foreign Minister. Fluent in English and German, the diplomat was also formerly a spokesman in London and Bonn and a political-affairs counsellor in Washington.