It’s a gloomy midweek evening in north Manchester. A thin wind whips through the damp air and The Apprentice is on the telly. Who on earth would venture out on such a night?
It’s a question I ask myself as I pull into the car park of a local shul hall, where I’m star-billing as guest speaker at a small event for the local branch of the League of Jewish Women. Good job I had no Mariah Carey-esque dressing-room requests, such as fresh flowers or chilled pomegranate juice — though there is the promise of a plate of kichels after I’ve finished.
Public speaking was never one of my ambitions. But being in the media puts a girl on the radar. Marry that with the countless local groups with an insatiable thirst for speakers and you’ll understand how I’ve found myself sucked on to the circuit.
Sure, there’s an appeal to my vanity when I take the call (“we love your JC column”), as well as a bit of tug at my social conscience (“all the proceeds go to our charity”). Really, how can I refuse?
Anyway, it gives my mum nachus. Even if I don’t tell her where I’m speaking, I find she has, as if by magic, been spirited on to the front row like one of those enthusiastic Cliff Richard fans who follow their ageing idol wherever he performs.
There is, of course, a corollary between the prestige of the speaker and the size of the event (note shul hall in my case). Which is why Jewish charities rely on celebrity headliners to pull in the punters and raise money for their causes.
Unfortunately, hooking such stellar attractions isn’t easy. It’s fine, of course, if money is involved, but for many charities, it is, quite rightly, a dereliction of their purpose to dip into the budget and pay for speakers. Instead, they rely on some serious string-pulling and that old game of “not what you know, but who you know” to net a star guest.
It’s a nationwide problem for Jewish charities, but even more so out here in the provinces where we have the twin obstacles of a lack of London-centric contacts (most big celebs live in the capital) and the sheer challenge of being more geographically isolated.
I’ve become aware of the difficulty over the past year, after becoming involved with Manchester Jewish Community Care, a charity which runs the Nicky Alliance Day Care Centre — a wonderful resource for the elderly and infirm.Charitable donations are vital, and its indefatigable fund-raisers and chairman try everything thing they can to lure big names to Manchester.
Organisations such as the Community Security Trust do hold charity dinners in Manchester, but it is the kind of nationwide operation that can call upon honchos in their head office to get a big name to migrate north for the night.
How can provincially-based organisations like the Nicky compete? Yet a charity like this is relevant to everyone — old age is an inevitable diagnosis for most of us.
So what’s the answer? To me, it’s simple. The Jewish community is not bound by geographical limitations. It’s a network hanging on scaffolding of mutual need. So we shouldn’t limit the help we can offer to our own back yards. Therefore, I’m appealing to those in the capital with highly-placed friends to step up to the plate and help those charities in the north which struggle to attract A-list speakers.
Oh, and by the way, my talk to the League of Jewish Women raised £300 — and that’s even after the cost of the kichels. Imagine what they’d have made if Cheryl Cole had turned up instead.