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Richard Verber: Why I’m stepping down as Board of Deputies vice-president

The organisation's youngest ever vice president writes about his decision not to stand again

    Flattering though all the speculation is about the Board of Deputies presidency, I am not putting myself forward as a candidate. I think I would enjoy the role, would learn a lot and would have a lot to give. I might even have won the election. But now is not the right time. Who knows what the future will hold.

    Well before Jonathan Arkush announced his intention not to seek re-election, I had decided that following the birth of our first child, I would not be seeking re-election as a vice-president in order to be around for more bath times and nappy changes. I have already missed too many. 

    It has been an honour and a privilege to have served the Board of Deputies and the Jewish community these past three years. I don't think we have always got everything right: with a community as diverse as ours, that would be impossible. But I know every decision has been taken solely with one thought in mind: how can we best represent the British Jewish community's view on this issue.

    The honorary officers – Jonathan, Marie van der Zyl, Sheila Gewolb, Stuart MacDonald and myself -  have worked well together, taking collective responsibility on every decision, whether we personally agreed with it or not. I wish each of my colleagues well.

    I am delighted that we are ending this triennium (yes, we still use the word triennium) with something I campaigned on: a rallying call to get more women and young people to stand as deputies for their synagogues and organisations. The only way to change things is to get involved - so please seize the mantle and be the change you want to see.

    I was elected with the largest-ever mandate only because deputies recognised the need to reform. I am proud of the changes we have achieved but know there is more to do. The last thing I want is that my record of being the youngest-ever senior vice-president stands for another 258 years. If I've shown that young people can reach the top, then it needs others to follow: if I'm a one-off, I will have failed.

    Let me end by posing a question to which there is no easy answer. While my personal situation is my own choice, my decision reflects a wider challenge faced by Jewish charities. Charities need the best trustees possible - even more so in today's challenging third sector climate. But how can we harness the talent that exists in our community for people who aren't available for meetings during “traditional” hours? This includes people with young families - and for mums with childcare commitments in particular. Meetings early in the morning don't work for those doing the school run nor do early evenings if you're on bath time duty.

    For the Board of Deputies in particular, being president, perhaps more than chairing any other communal charity, currently demands such a commitment that the role is really only open to someone who is retired, self-employed or sufficiently senior in their organisation.

    This is because the prevailing view among deputies and the community is that the president must be constantly visible. In addition to an inbox full of emails and many meetings during the week, this means Shabbats and weekends spent visiting communities and some international travel too.

    As senior vice-president I have had my fair share, enjoying some wonderful Friday nights in our smaller communities around the UK and fascinating time spent in Israel, Washington, New York and Brussels.

    Perhaps this will always be the case. Things have at least improved immeasurably in recent years: the professional staff team now run the organisation day to day, the honorary officers set the vision and are accountable for what goes on.

    Given the time commitment, and given our constant desire to have the best possible candidates stand for election, one suggestion might be to make the role of the president paid, at least a stipend perhaps, if not a full-time salary. A president could donate it back to the charity if they felt they didn't need it.

    It has been an honour to represent World Jewish Relief as a deputy, and I must thank Paul Anticoni, WJR chief executive, together with our staff and trustees, for their unwavering support which has allowed me to take on this demanding position on top of a busy and rewarding day job.

    I am now looking forward to other opportunities. And more nappies, of course.

     

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