The four candidates standing to be president of the Board of Deputies have gone head to head in the final hustings event before Sunday’s election, each presenting the reasons they feel they would be most effective in the role.
Edwin Shuker, Marie van der Zyl, Sheila Gewolb and Simon Hochhauser outlined their visions for the Jewish communal organisation in front of an audience of 150 on Tuesday night.
The event, at the JW3 community centre in North-West London, was held in conjunction with the JC and chaired by Stephen Pollard, the JC's editor.
Dr Gewolb, vice president of the Board’s community issues division for the last three years, described the election cycle as having been “contentious, toxic even, marked by acrimony, distrust and controversy.
“With your support I will unify the Board and lead us into a new golden era.”
She said she had demonstrated “tireless commitment and energy to support Jews. I have travelled over 50,000 miles, attended nearly 300 events, and visited more than 84 schools across the UK. I have exponentially expanded the Board’s outreach work.”
Mr Shuker, who originally comes from Iraq and described how he had seen Jews hanged in a public square as a boy, said he would bring “an excellent knowledge of the Middle East – Hebrew and Arabic speaking and culture” to the role.
“Things are changing literally in front of our eyes,” he said, a reference to Donald Trump’s scrapping of the Iran deal hours before. “We need to adjust our message accordingly.”
Mrs van der Zyl, who has served as vice president of the Board’s defence division for the last three years, said she would be a “listening and consultative president”, and spoke of the need of the Jewish community to “come together”.
“There’s a very diverse spectrum of Jewish affiliations within the Board of Deputies,” she said.
“And I feel debates are something we should have the courage to introduce, for example we could have had a debate on organ donation. I feel that if we become relevant, we’re going to attract more young people – tomorrow’s leaders.”
Mr Hochhauser, a former president of the United Synagogue, described the possibility of a war between Israel and Iran or its proxies.
“Please God that won’t happen,” he said. “But if it does, we have seen in 2014 the effect that has on our community – a community under siege because of mass demonstrations, a community which will be presented with forms of antisemitism hitherto unheard of.
“And it will be necessary for the leader of this community, the most senior role in the Jewish community, to stand in a television studio, to appear on radio and on the internet, to defend Israel and defend the Jewish community against the barrage of attacks, against serious questions, with the marshalling of facts that only the experienced can produce.”
Close to 300 deputies are eligible to vote in the election, with the postal vote running from April 30 until May 11. The winner will be announced at the Board meeting on Sunday.