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Taking the message nationwide - how the Jewish Leadership Council's regional managers won over the sceptics

Marc Levy is the JLC’s man in the North-West, while Miki Vyse has responsibility for Yorkshire and the East Coast.

    Marc Levy (right) with Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP for Denton and Reddish in Manchester
    Marc Levy (right) with Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP for Denton and Reddish in Manchester

    Marc Levy is a man well-placed to explode some myths.

    There is a belief among some in the Jewish community that almost the entire British establishment, and certainly the majority of parliamentarians, are opposed to Jewish interests and especially intent on working against Israel.

    But Mr Levy knows otherwise. As the Jewish Leadership Council’s regional manager in the North-West of England, it is his job to reach out to dozens of MPs, councillors and other public servants.

    For many of those he meets, it could be the first contact they have had not just with a Jewish community represent peninies ative, but with any Jewish person at all. These are parts of the country in which the Jewish communal infrastructure has historically been weaker than in London, Manchester and other major cities. 

    A former lawyer, Mr Levy says the work he undertakes — alongside the JLC’s other regional managers — is helping British Jewry create new networks and advocate for its interests.

    “These are lines of communication which have never previously existed. It’s a point of contact people haven’t had before,” Mr Levy says. 

    He has used his role primarily to work on political issues — going out across the region to encourage local authorities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism; meeting elected representatives to discuss Jew-hatred in the political arena, or defending Jewish practices such as shechita.

    When the JLC regional positions were created a couple of years ago, some in the community grumbled about the group expanding its work. It was felt the geographic areas were already well-served by the Board of Deputies and local representative councils, and that the additional cost was unnecessary.The JLC’s plan for a “programme of practical support for advocacy” was met with scepticism.

    While Jonathan Goldstein, who became JLC chairman last year, looks to streamline the organisation and has set up a commission to investigate greater efficiency, the regional workers have had a series of successes. Slowly, the sceptics are being won over.

    Mr Levy, 34, is particularly proud of his work with local authorities, many of which cover large swathes of the North-West which are home to few, if any, Jewish residents, but where councillors want to learn more about the community.

    He has established links with senior figures, including “absolute mensch” Andy Burnham, the Manchester mayor, who has become a familiar face at events run by Jewish groups such as The Fed or Community Security Trust.

    Covering almost 80 political constituencies, Mr Levy makes regular visits to Westminster to help link up MPs and their staffs with London-based Jewish leaders.

    “The JLC is now at the forefront of political engagement, on behalf of the community,” he explains. 

    “I was amazed to meet MPs who have been in Parliament for 20 years and never had any Jewish communal representative come and meet them in their constituency. Progress has been made.”

    He is now convinced that friends do exist in unexpected places and cites the cases of “lots of MPs who are extremely supportive of the community where there’s nothing in it for them”.

    Miki Vyse (centre) meets Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry in Leeds
    Miki Vyse (centre) meets Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry in Leeds

    Across the Pennines, Miki Vyse, the Yorkshire and East Coast regional manager, is focusing on tailoring her efforts to the needs of each community in her area.

    The 26-year-old Catholic covers cities including Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Hull and York. She previously worked for the Jewish welfare board in Leeds, a position which gave her “a real taste for community work. I got to manage 200 volunteers, it was amazing”.

    That enthusiasm is obvious in Ms Vyse’s current role. “I’m loving every minute of it and love working with the Jewish community,” she says. “Seeing the Hull community was absolutely fantastic; I’ve never felt so welcomed and it was great to be able to say ‘the JLC supports you in your efforts’.

    “One of the things I’m doing is working to make kosher food more available in supermarkets for smaller communities.”

    Contrary to those earlier fears about the JLC encroaching on others’ work, Ms Vyse is working with the Board to promote its Jewish manifesto for local politicians and to “make sure people are aware there are a lot of issues the community really care about and making sure those issues and voices are being heard”.

    A former National Union of Students executive committee member and students’ union president, she came into contact with the Jewish community through the Union of Jewish Students, which she worked with to campaign against boycotts of Israel. 

    She has an affinity with the country “as a religious LGBT person. Tel Aviv has a very special place in my heart and I’m happy to shout that from the rooftops, tell people what a wonderful place Israel is, and fight for it”.

    Mr Levy and Ms Vyse are at the forefront of an initiative which will see Danielle Bett begin work as the JLC’s regional manager in Scotland next month, and it is hoped a new figure will be appointed in the Midlands to replace Nicola Richards, who moved on in late 2017.

    Claudia Mendoza, the JLC’s director of policy and public affairs, says: “There has always been a perception that the Jewish communal leadership is London-centric. But we have sought to redress that by placing regional managers in key parts of the country. 

    “They have been phenomenally successful in supporting their local Jewish communities as well as building relationships with local stakeholders, including MPs, council leaders and the new metro mayors. 

    “The team are dedicated, hard-working and local to their respective patches, and that has proven to be a winning combination.”

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