Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has defended the Board of Deputies and predicted it will emerge “strengthened” following a period of “turbulence”.
In his final address to the Board, Lord Sacks praised the organisation’s work and paid tribute to former chief executive Jon Benjamin who left his post earlier this month.
The Board’s former senior vice-president Jerry Lewis launched a scathing attack on Mr Benjamin and the Board’s current leaders last week, claiming the organisation was “in a complete mess” and “increasingly irrelevant”.
But Lord Sacks backed the Board’s work to defend Israel, combat antisemitism and maintain standards of Jewish day schools, but acknowledged that it was “in a process of transition and of change”.
At Sunday’s plenary meeting he said: “The Board will rise, I predict and promise, to greater heights than it has known before. These are the birth pangs of something new. Turbulence is OK. The Board will come out of it strengthened.”
He said the organisation would “thrive” under a “new Anglo-Jewry” led by his successor, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
President Vivian Wineman told deputies that the criticisms made by Mr Lewis were “unfortunate and crossed a red line”. He said the Board should “not be apologetic for doing terrific work. We are glueing the community together”.
He acknowledged that “there are areas where we can raise our game”, but said the community was “not about to witness the demise of the Board”.
During the meeting deputies repeatedly criticised Mr Lewis. Adrian Cohen, deputy for Highgate Synagogue, said: “There’s a tendency to play the man rather than the ball and to demonise people. We should be trying to avoid that kind of language. We should be discussing the issues, not having a go at individual deputies.”
Mr Wineman was asked about talks being held by the Board and Jewish Leadership Council over how the two organisations can work more closely together.
He said: “It has not gone very far at all. Details will have to be worked out with deputies. Nothing is going to happen unless deputies actually buy into it.”
Mr Benjamin last week declined to respond to Mr Lewis’s remarks, but on Twitter replied to deputies offering support , saying he “wasn’t about to start taking lessons from Jerry on people skills”.
During his address Lord Sacks also spoke of his “sadness” at the rise of antisemitism and criticism of Israel.
He said: “Ordinary, decent human beings who ought to know better — including some of our churches and academics — are picking up an attitude that’s out there and they do not realise how unacceptable and tragic that is.”
Historians would record current anti-Zionism as the antisemitism of the 21st century, claimed Lord Sacks.
The Board has appointed management consultant Andrea Kelmanson as interim chief of operations following the departure of chief executive Jon Benjamin.
Ms Kelmanson specialises in organisational development at not-for-profit organisations. She previously worked with Age Concern, the Alzheimer's Society and Liberty.
Described as a "troubleshooter", the former Jewish Aids Trust chair will start work next week.