Go back 60 years and our community looked very different from today. Then families were more traditional, people married earlier; Jews were more likely to attend shul although they were less likely to be strictly Orthodox; and there were fewer mixed-faith couples. The community had a wider geographical spread, with many more sizeable communities outside London and Manchester; it was bigger, too, around 410,000 compared to somewhat more than 300,000 today.
The world around us looked very different, too. The glitter of empire had not yet totally faded and deference was the norm. Britain was a white Anglo-Saxon Christian society. Jews were the main non-Christian minority and institutional antisemitism was rife. Large-scale black and Asian immigration had not yet happened and multi-culturalism was not yet even a gleam in a pundit’s eye. Israel was the land of socialist experiment; of the kibbutz and female emancipation, David against Goliath.
The changes of the past 60 years demand a rethink not only in the attitudes of the community, but also in its structure and leadership. How do we reconnect with the younger generation of Jews, if we cannot longer rely on shul loyalty across the community, and if Israel, while hugely important to the community, is no longer the unifying factor it once was? And how do we engage with large and growing sections of our community that will not engage with us?
We are hugely fortunate in the current leadership of our charities and religious organisations. We are lucky that such people remain so engaged with our community when many others in their position and with their resources do not. As they themselves are pointing out, however, we must take steps to identify and encourage future generations of leaders, encouraging young philanthropy, identifying women to serve in leadership positions and challenging the systemic barriers which too often exclude them.
That’s why we should welcome the initiatives taken not only by the Board but also by the JLC, UJIA and others to close this gap, whether it be the Board’s own Women in Leadership, UJIA’s work to encourage giving from an early age, the Adam Science Leadership programme, the work of LEAD or any number of other initiatives.
But if we are serious about engaging and empowering a new generation then the current generation, my generation, must be prepared to step back. We have also to adjust to a new world where Twitter, Facebook and other social media enable ordinary people to become participants, not merely onlookers in the debate.
That is the challenge of communal leadership as we look ahead to 2020. It underpins our current negotiations on redesigning the communal architecture, working more closely with the JLC and it is the challenge that has inspired my colleague, Laurence Brass, the treasurer of the Board, to organise this weekend’s conference on the future leadership of the community (Vision 2020 takes place at University College London).
We must recognise that whatever solutions we come up with, these must be based on the world of today, not of 250 years ago when we were established. They must be underpinned by the principles which are now leading others in every sphere of life: listening, engaging and empowering,from the bottom up.