New Board president pledges ‘a little less conversation, a little more action’ at his first plenary

Phil Rosenberg said he had received messages from over 30 Muslim leaders who would like to work with the Board


Board of Deputies' new President Phil Rosenberg is pledging more action from the Board

Never before has a Board of Deputies plenary ended with the sounds of Elvis Presley echoing around the hall. But the American rocker’s plea for “a little less conversation, a little more action” was played as the theme of a new-look Board, at the end of its first session on Sunday under new president Phil Rosenberg.

The youngest Board leader on record in its 264-year history - 16 years older than the American republic - was as good as his campaign word in pledging change in the way business would be done.

More time was allotted for deputies to contribute from the floor; the meeting was run by an independent chair - Karen Newman, deputy for the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood - rather than the president as previously; and it began, as the president had promised, with a kiddush” of sushi, filled pitta and pastries to enable deputies to get to know each other.

“It is a great opportunity to meet before we sit down,” said first-time deputy Kay Wierba, representing Wizo.

Explaining her decision to stand for the Board, she said: “I have not been involved enough in the community so I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to do so, especially considering what’s happening in Israel and how it affects the global Jewish community.”

Another debutant deputy was Paul Harris, representing Masorti Judaism, who has recently been speaking to packed synagogue audiences on his work as a solicitor aiding some of the subpostmasters wrongly prosecuted in the Horizon scandal.

A former chair of New North London Synagogue, he had stepped back from community service when his late wife, Rina Wolfson, fell ill. “This is my dipping my toe in again,” he said. “It’s a good place to start.”

Josie Price, for the Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade, who at 26 was one of the youngest faces present and was taking her seat too for the first time, had high hopes. “I think there’s a real push for innovation,” she said.

A more seasoned deputy Vicki Harris, of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, said: “I’m really impressed with how energetic Phil is. I think it is going to make a big difference. He has got his heart and his mind in the right place.”

The opening buffet clearly succeeded in setting a positive mood, which lasted for the duration of the two-hour event as deputies congratulated the Board’s new officers on an encouraging start.

The president’s emphasis throughout was on constructive dialogue. He said he had had “good” meetings with Jewish Leadership Council chairman Keith Black and while he believed the two organisations should merge “under democratic control for the good of the community”, they would work together even if separate.

While interfaith relations may be more difficult in the wake of October 7, Rosenberg said he had received good wishes on his election from 30 to 40 Muslim leaders who “would like to work with us”.

He stressed the importance of maintaining a good relationship with the Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely - after being pressed by Daniel Grossman of UJS on whether he had challenged her in meetings, since, the student deputy said, she had spoken against “the two-state solution we believe in” and was “not a partner for peace. Quite frankly, neither is the Israeli government.”

When Rosenberg was asked by one deputy about a lack of political diversity on the top table since four of the five officers had Labour connections, he responded: “Judge us on our actions.”

He had dealt with a Conservative government when public affairs director of the Board, he pointed out, while two of the three vice-presidents Adrian Cohen and Andrew Gilbert had, in their previous capacity as chairs of the London Jewish Forum, worked with a Conservative administration in City Hall.

The president was due to meet women deputies this week over a draft equality plan following concern over the fact that an all-male officer team had been elected this time. It is the first time in 15 years that no woman is in the top tier of the Board.

In a podcast interview with JC editor Jake Wallis Simons, Rosenberg said: “I do think that there are structural challenges in our community and in our organisation.”

He revealed that he had “tried to encourage a number of women to stand, particularly for vice president and a number of them said they wouldn't want to do that. And there are a number of reasons that kind of came up repeatedly,” He said that the culture of the Board had, in the past, been “toxic” and “too adversarial”.

If the start of the triennium is a harbinger of things to come, that may be about to change.

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