I am coming to the end of my first year on the Board of Deputies. As I sat in one of the monthly meetings a few weeks ago, I thought: it doesn't need to be like this.
Meetings are long and rarely run to schedule. Agendas are published, but there is often insufficient time to deal with the matters of the day. Contributing new ideas is difficult and what goes on behind the scenes is opaque at best. Deputies are often frustrated by the process, the unclear rules, and the general malaise that settles at the end of most meetings. For the benefit of the community, this must change.
The deputies are good people, who willingly give their time to serve the community. Many travel hundreds of miles to make it to London on a Sunday morning. But they are painfully unrepresentative of the community. Just 25 per cent are women, with 196 men out of a total of 260 deputies, despite women outnumbering men in the community. The entire executive is male, too. The Board is missing out on dozens and dozens of talented women who could - and should be encouraged to -offer their expertise.
Younger members of our community are also underrepresented. It is wonderful that meetings often begin with "Mazal Tovs", such as a deputy celebrating his 60th birthday. But it is dreadful that, at 60, the gentleman in question is one of the youngest in the room. According to the 2001 census, 12.4 per cent of British Jews are over 75, yet 26 per cent of deputies are over 71. About 25 per cent of British Jews are aged between 20 and 40, but that age group makes up just seven per cent of the current deputies. For the benefit of the community, this, too, must change.
What can be done? Well, a group of young professionals, older professionals, youth movement activists and students have got together to say: enough. Our campaign is called Changing the Board. While we hold some reservations about the Board's current structure, we feel it is imperative that British Jewry is able to organise itself and speak as one. It matters because it is a democratically elected, non-denominational organisation that, when it gets it right, can support Jewish communities big and small across the length and breadth of the UK.
You don’t need to be rich, male, or from London
The Board faces four immediate challenges that it must address. Firstly, the Board must strive to attract the best people, regardless of age or gender. Secondly, it needs to show that it is serious about engaging young people in its work. Young people are vital because they bring fresh ideas, new perspectives and are increasingly willing to devote the time. The Board must also look urgently at how it can "represent" new parties in the Jewish community, including the many grass-roots groups flourishing across the UK. It must find a way to engage everyone who wishes to engage.
The Board can go some way to achieving all of these by addressing what is perhaps its most pressing challenge: to better explain to the wider community what on earth the Board is, what it does and why people should care.
How can you help create change? You can become a deputy of your synagogue, youth movement or communal organisation. If your community has never joined the Board, then join. If you used to have a deputy decades ago, re-affiliate. You don't need to be rich, or from London, or a man.
Deputies will be elected between now and May to serve for three years. We are calling for anyone, of any age, to join us. If you're interested in change, if you're tired of being ignored and misrepresented, the time has come for action. The time is now.
Richard Verber is the professional development and leadership training director of the Union of Jewish Students. www.changingtheboard.wordpress.com