Mitzvah Day's Laura Marks sweeps the Board of Deputies poll

By Simon Rocker, May 24, 2012

The head of a campaign to encourage more women into Jewish leadership roles set the perfect example on Sunday when she topped the poll for vice-president of the Board of Deputies. Laura Marks, founder of the cross-communal social action event Mitzvah Day, was elected senior vice-president - just four months after becoming a deputy.

The other two vice-presidential positions were secured by Alex Brummer, award-winning Daily Mail City editor and vice-chair of the Board's international division, and senior vice-president for the past triennial, Jonathan Arkush.

They defeated Jerry Lewis, who lost his bid for re-election as vice-president, and family solicitor Denise Lester, in an election in which more than 80 per cent of deputies voted.

Ms Marks, who represents the Movement for Reform Judaism and is the first non-Orthodox officer for more than a decade, said she was "amazed, honoured, flattered" by the result.

Although "a new girl" at the Board, she said that she believed the "work I do for the wider community stood me in better stead than I reckoned.

"And it's gratifying because I couldn't have got through on a Progressive-only vote. The fact that the support base must have been wider is important for the community and for the Board."

When one Orthodox deputy, Anthony Spencer of Borehamwood Synagogue, asked during hustings how she could defend Jewish tradition as a Reform member, he was loudly heckled from the floor. In contrast, Ms Marks was widely applauded when she declared: "I firmly believeā€¦that the Board of Deputies represents all Jews in this country."

Board president Vivian Wineman and treasurer Laurence Brass had already succeeded in winning second terms unopposed.

Under the single transferable vote system used, each deputy was allowed to put down two names, with candidates requiring 55 votes to gain election. After first preferences were counted, Ms Marks had 65 votes and Mr Brummer 56, followed by Mr Arkush with 48, Mr Lewis, 36, and Ms Lester, 17. When second choices in the next round were added, Mr Arkush rose to 57, ahead of Mr Lewis on 48.

Mr Brummer said: "It is a terrific new team, the Board has been refreshed."

Mr Arkush - who along with Mr Brass has been mooted as a contender for the presidency in three years' time - said: "I am very pleased and gratified we have got such a team. I believe that the vote for me constituted a strong endorsement." Three months ago he had unleashed controversy after a strong attack on the Jewish Leadership Council, only to issue an apology after a backlash against the Board.

But Mr Arkush reconfirmed that he could not see how an organisation could be accountable it if were unelected. "I said it was therefore unacceptable [for the JLC] to assume political leadership of our community. I still believe that to be the case," he said.

While he supported the JLC's role as a strategic agency, he remained concerned that it should "stick to its remit"; it was a council of people including some leaders, not "the Jewish leadership, so I continue to believe it should change its name".

Last updated: 2:28pm, May 24 2012