The Board of Deputies has appointed former Labour minister Gillian Merron as its new chief executive.
Ms Merron, 55, who served as the MP for Lincoln for 13 years until she lost her seat in the 2010 election, joined the board of Liberal Judaism two years ago and was appointed a vice-president of the Jewish Leadership Council last year.
Her arrival in July will give the Board an experienced politician at its helm with an insider’s knowledge of government. She was a health minister in 2009-10, after previous roles as under-secretary in the Department of International Development and the Foreign Office.
She said: "It is an honour to have this opportunity to serve our community in such a key role. I am proud to be on my own Jewish journey, taking up the exciting challenge of working with the Board to defend and promote the interests of the Jewish community."
During her parliamentary term , she was a supporter of Labour Friends of Israel and the Holocaust Education Trust.
Raised in Dagenham, she spent a year in kibbutz and went to Jewish society Friday nights as a student at Lancaster University but she was not closely involved in Jewish life until she became active in the small Lincolnshire Liberal community where she remains a member.
She recalled bumping into a man in a kippah in the city who happened to be the congregation's membership secretary in 2000.
“When I received an invitation to a Chanucah party, I could not resist,” she told the JC in 2009.
A business consultant, she is divisional director for the Cool Milk, which supplies milk to schools, and the European representative of Weightwatchers International: she also chairs a group to improve transport, Bus Users UK.
At Liberal Judaism she has helped to develop its strategic plan and represent the movement externally.
Board president Vivian Wineman said, "We are thrilled to have attracted a candidate of the calibre of Gillian Merron to this post."
Liberal Judaism chairman Lucian Hudson, who also knows Ms Merron from the period when he was director of communications at the Foreign Office, described her as "an inspired choice. She is a woman of high integrity and is very professional."
The appointment was also hailed by campaigner's for women's equality. Norma Brier, who co-chairs Women in Jewish Leadership, said, "This is an exciting appointment into one of the most important and highest-profile posts in our community. Crucially, it followed an open, fair and transparent recruitment process that enabled all candidates to demonstrate their skills, experience and suitability to the role. This is something that we'd like to see replicated across the community since it is the only way to enable talented women to access leadership roles."
But the applause was not universal. One Conservative party Jewish supporter said of the appointment, "It's a shame. There's long been a school of thought that the Board is left of centre and this reinforces it."
Ms Merron was one of the speakers at the JLC’s Chanucah in the Square celebration in Trafalgar Square last year.
She succeeds Jon Benjamin, who stepped down a year ago. Since then, the Board has been steered by an interim chief of operations, Andrea Kelmanson.