Jewish candidates prepare for local election battles across the country

Next week's local council polls will see a number of Jewish candidates seek election across Britain. We spoke to some of the contenders.


HACKNEY - By Simon Rocker

A poster in a rather highbrow style of Yiddish appeared in Hackney this week, urging its large Charedi population to cast their votes for Labour in the council elections on May 22.

But the appeal comes in the teeth of one glaring fact: of the more than 20 Charedi candidates standing in the London borough, not one is from the ruling Labour administration.

On the 58-seat council, the small opposition is almost entirely strictly Orthodox: the five Conservatives comprise four Charedim and one Sephardi, while two of the three Liberal Democrats are Charedi.

Local Conservative party chairman Harvey Odze is aiming to regain the council seat he lost four years ago. And he has high hopes for his 25-year-old daughter Chaya. A counsellor with a first-class degree from the University of East London, “she has a realistic chance of getting in,” Mr Odze said.

His is a deeply political family, with son Shneur and daughter-in-law Chavi standing for council election in Salford, but for UKIP.

“We disagree over politics, I think he was wrong to join UKIP,” said Mr Odze senior, “but we haven’t fallen out over it.”

Hackney’s election campaign has been a family affair in other cases too. Four relatives of Conservative Councillor Bernard Aussenberg are standing, three of Liberal Democrat Councillor Ian Sharer’s, as well as Conservative Councillor Simche Steinberger’s mother, Ita.

For the Orthodox community with its large families, one of the critical issues is housing, especially in light of contentious restrictions on extending homes.

Conservative Councillor Linda Kelly, a member of the Indian Gan Eden Synagogue, who switched in 2011 after nine years representing Labour, is bidding to stop Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe from gaining a fourth term.

She said, “We have a shortage of housing and the houses the council builds are rabbit hutches. They don’t build houses for families.”

Mr Sharer, the longest-serving Orthodox councillor with 20 years under his belt, said: “There is chronic overcrowding. Some of the architectural heritage has to be protected, but we do need a sympathetic ear from Hackney Council.”

He is also campaigning for an out-of-hours coroners service to allow faster burials — an issue also of concern to the Muslim community, whom he considers “good friends”.

If red does not seem the most popular election colour for Hackney Charedim, that does not mean the party has no support among them, according to Council Speaker Michael Desmond.

A member of Hackney United Synagogue and the most Jewishly involved of three Labour Jewish councillors, he said that the party was canvassing more heavily in wards where the Charedi community was concentrated.

“We believe the community respects the fact that Hackney is buzzing — crime is down, the streets are clean and council tax has been kept at the same level for many years,” he said.

He rejected claims that the council ignored strictly Orthodox housing needs. “There is a lot of social housing that Agudas Israel has built in the borough and the council has been very supportive of it,” he said.

REDBRIDGE - By Marcus Dysch

There are few similarities between Rishon LeZion and the Essex commuter belt.

But Tal Ofer hopes that his decision to swap one of Israel’s largest cities for the outskirts of the British capital will prove fruitful for his political ambitions.

The 34-year-old is standing as a Labour councillor in Redbridge at next week’s election. Already a member of the European Jewish Parliament, he is looking to take the next step on a path he hopes could lead to Westminster.

“I’ve been living in Britain for five-and-a-half years. Now I’m settled with a wife and daughter and I really want to give something back,” the Israeli explained.

BARNET - By Marcus Dysch

Childs Hill ward, in the borough of Barnet, has been held by three Jewish Liberal Democrat councillors for a quarter of a century.

Now Monroe and Susette Palmer — the husband and wife duo with almost 50 years of Barnet Council service between them — are stepping down, although their fellow LibDem Jack Cohen is standing again.

Joining him for the Lib Dems are Charlotte Henry, a 26-year-old former politics student, and Jonathan Davies, a former councillor and current treasurer of Golders Green Synagogue.

Peter Zinkin, a former vice-president of the United Synagogue and ex-chair of Golders Green Synagogue, is contesting the ward for the Conservatives.

BURY AND SALFORD - By Charlotte Oliver

Jewish candidates abound in the race to be elected to Salford City Council, including Lubavitch couple Shneur and Chava Shoshanna Odze, who are running as Ukip candidates in different wards.

While Mrs Odze is canvassing in Broughton, her husband is campaigning for a seat in neighbouring Kersal.

In addition, Mr Odze is standing for election as a member of the European Parliament for the north-west region the European Parliament.

Running for the Conservatives in the ward of Langworthy is Rabbi Arnold Saunders.

The emeritus rabbi for Higher Crumpsall and Higher Broughton Congregation said he had returned to politics after leaving his post as Jewish chaplain for the armed forces two years ago.

He said that, although Langworthy does not have a large number of Jewish residents, the fact that Salford is the second largest Jewish community in the UK meant their vote would bear heavily on the evenutal outcome of the election.

Meanwhile, paper merchant Richard Cowan, 41, who is Tory candidate for Unsworth in the Bury South Council elections, said that more Jewish representation in local government was needed.

While campaigning, he had “spoken to people who told me they had never met a Jewish person”.

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