Meet the power players: Who’s standing to lead the Board of Deputies – and what are they offering?

We shine a light on the contenders for president ahead of the 12 May election


Bidding for glory: Board presidential candidates (from left) Phil Rosenberg, Sheila Gewolb, Michael Ziff, Amanda Bowman

v Youthful energy will take on organisational expertise and educational savvy in the upcoming Board of Deputies election.

The four candidates bidding to succeed Marie van der Zyl as president face a gruelling campaign of more than a month before the 300 or so electors go to the ballot box on Sunday 12 May.

Former Board of Deputies public affairs director Phil Rosenberg is more than 25 years younger than any of the other candidates, while vice-president Amanda Bowman offers the experience of taking the lead in the Board’s fight against rising antisemitism.

Former Board senior vice-president Dr Sheila Gewolb will cite her all-round service on behalf of the Board, especially her interest in the battle for young minds in education.

Board treasurer Michael Ziff will draw on his business and Jewish organisational expertise as a veteran Maccabi leader to reshape some of the Board’s campaign capability.

There will be no shortage of time for deputies and members of the Jewish public to grill the contenders with the first of four hustings scheduled to take place in Manchester on 2 April.

Others will follow in Leeds, Glasgow and London. Members of the public can register to attend either in person or online.

A five-horse race has opened up for the three vice-presidential positions, all of which will be filled with new incumbents this year.

The co-chairs of the London Jewish Forum Adrian Cohen and Andrew Gilbert are both in the running, the latter having reversed his earlier decision to withdraw. They are up against the chair of the Board’s regional group, Jeremy Michelson, from Manchester; Owen Power, representing one of UK’s newest Jewish groups, York Liberal; and Denise Lester, who was the youngest woman deputy to be elected when she took her seat at the Board 30 years ago.

Ex-treasurer Ben Crowne, who resigned midway through the current triennial in 2022, is standing again for the post, unopposed.


Sheila Gewolb

l Dr Sheila Gewolb lists as her foremost qualities “passion, energy and commitment” and in her 15 years as deputy for Cardiff Synagogue she has clocked up tens of thousands of miles in the service of the organisation. Vice-president from 2015 to 2021 – she topped the poll in her second election and deputised on occasions for the president – she had to step down after a maximum two terms in office, but there has been no let-up in her efforts since. 

Having run the Board’s international and community and education divisions as VP, she now chairs the Board’s outreach educational working group. She previously contested the presidency six years ago.

Education has been her forte and as an executive member of the National Association of Standing Councils for Religious Education and on the board of the Religious Education Council of the UK, she plays an important role in ensuring that Judaism gets a look-in in school classrooms.

The doctorate – in language and communications – she achieved in later life shows determination and an ability to focus, she says.

She wants to make the Board “the first point of call, as it should be, for media reporting on the current situation and bringing the other community organisations along with us”.

In the current “adversarial climate”, she would work for greater unity among leading Jewish organisations in order to “challenge and lobby government and the media. We need to speak with one voice to challenge the lies and threats against us.

“We also need more education about what it means to be Jewish in the UK today and about Israel as the historical homeland of the Jews and how the modern state was created in 1948 as the only democracy in the Middle East.” A deputy lieutenant for London, and a member of the Lord Lieutenant’s Council on Faith, she advocates greater interfaith engagement. “We should reach out to other minority groups who also face racist challenges,” she says.

Her other priorities include encouraging greater democracy at the Board and more transparency from its honorary officers. Having family homes in Rutland, Cumbria and London, she knows there is more to Jewish life than in the capital and wants greater support for the regions. Having previously helped to fill the Board’s coffers as annual dinner chair, she looks to broaden its funding through a patron’s scheme.

In a previous campaign, she said she strove to be “amiable, pragmatic, approachable” but when the situation warranted, could be “resolute and unyielding”.


Amanda Bowman

c In choppy waters, Board of Deputies vice-president Amanda Bowman, will offer herself as a steady hand at the helm. Supporters say a strong asset is her unrufflable calm as well as her reputation for being a capable administrator who is willing to work quietly behind the scenes without the urge to be in the limelight. “Nobody comes close to her experience leading on defence,” remarked one, referring to threats the Jewish community.

As chair of the organisation’s defence and group relations division for the past six years, she says her two terms have given “her unparalleled experience in the areas that matter most”. Building trust with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service has been “pivotal for successfully challenging failures in pursuing antisemitic hate crime” and resulted in “significantly improved” charge rates since October 7.

Her track record in holding Labour to account “as it navigates post-Corbyn relationships with the Jewish community” she believes will stand her in good stead for the top job.

But a key task will be to “target diverse audiences” in order to increase awareness and understanding of “endemic” antisemitism and anti-Israeli sentiment in society.

A background that has included involvement in a global NGO has given her a broader outlook and she believes her work will be helpful when it comes to encouraging cross-sector partnerships, social action and interfaith engagement. Rebuilding interfaith relations will be “vital for…social cohesion”, she says.

She summarises her priorities as championing Jewish rights and traditions; celebrating Jewish life and empowering the next generation.

Describing herself as “flexible and pragmatic”, she says she is “open to diverse views, empowering deputies for impact through consensus-driven decision-making”. Her leadership has been guided by “avodah shebalev, service of the heart, marked by openness, accountability and transparency”.

Having served as a deputy for one of the United Synagogue’s older communities – Hampstead – for the past 12 years, she says understands that “we must value our diversity and create secure and inclusive space that genuinely reflects” the diverse perspectives of British Jewry.

“When we unite, our community thrives. British Jewry in 2024 is vastly different from 2018 or 2021. My record of working with diverse stakeholders will be critical. Improving life for Britain’s Jewish community is a collaborative effort, not a race for headlines among Jewish communal organisations.

“As the leader of the democratically elected, cross-communal representative body, the president of the Board is responsible for building its reputation and for working inclusively, recognising the unique strengths and strengthening ties with each communal organisation,” she says.


Phil Rosenberg

l Phil Rosenberg was the first out of the blocks in the race for the presidency and he is not shy about claiming he has the “most relevant experience” for the job. At 38, he would be the youngest known holder of the office, and says this would make him a “visible, unifying and energised president with fresh ideas”.

As a Labour councillor in Camden for four years, he points to his experience in “frontline politics” as well as his professional career with a leading PR and campaign firm. “Of the candidates, I have…the strongest network across politics, the media, interfaith and diplomacy, to make our case at the highest levels”.

The bid by the deputy for Brondesbury Park Synagogue will stand or fall on his record as public affairs director of the Board from 2013 to 2022. The role placed him in the heart of the communal establishment as it responded to the challenge of the Corbyn years. When early attempts at a constructive relationship with the then Labour leader failed, the Board and JLC upped the pressure with the “Enough is Enough” demonstration in Westminster.

When he left, he believed the Board had become “much more proactive than we used to be” and his own achievements in the office were “transformative”. As well as directing the campaign against antisemitism in Corbyn-led Labour, he said he “achieved the proscription of Hamas and Hezbollah; built relationships with Arab and Muslim-majority embassies around the Abraham Accords… pioneered Board of Deputies’ Jewish Manifesto series; and launched the Bush Commission on Racial Inclusivity”.

He also recruited the Board’s first regional manager and brought on board the first deputy from Stamford Hill in half a century, he said.

He joined the Board early in his career as the project manager for interfaith relations and social action and has worked on all four of the Board’s divisions and with its four recent presidents. “I have the best knowledge of how the Board works and the strongest track record of tangible results,” he said.

The Board needs to move from being a “talking shop” to “a platform for activism” where every deputy “engages with their local media, MPs, councillors, and faith leaders, supported by the centre”, he said.

His five priorities as president would be to democratise the Board: pursue a policy of “zero antisemitism”; stand up for Israel’s peace and security; protect Jewish practices and celebrate UK Jewish life; and “boost the Board’s relevance…across our diverse community”.


Michael Ziff

l When the post of treasurer of the Board of Deputies became vacant in 2022, Michael Ziff leapt into the breach. The role became tougher as the Board had to find extra resources to meet the challenge of rising antisemitism and the emergency of October 7 while ensuring spending did not run out of control. The businessman from Leeds, who was formerly chairman and chief executive of Barratts Shoes and is now director of an international merger and acquisitions firm, is a relative newcomer to the Board.

But he has previously rubbed shoulders with some of the main players on the Jewish charity scene, sitting on the Jewish Leadership Council as the then chairman of Maccabi GB.

He is now president of the sports and youth organisation, through which he has fostered connections with Israel and the Jewish world.

Educated at Polack’s, the Jewish house at Clifton College – alma mater of a previous president, the late Lionel Kopelowitz – he says he was “brought up in a household dedicated to community service.

"I have led organisations in many aspects of community life in the provinces, the capital, and globally. I am a listener, team player and the strong leader that the community needs.”

He is an ex-president of London’s Western Marble Arch Synagogue – a favourite praying ground of communal movers and shakers – in London, where he is based.

Twenty-five years ago he was brought into Labour Friends of Israel by his MP and the then Israeli ambassador when it was having difficulties, but since 2000 “I have been non-political and involved in cross-community activity”.

In his presidential pitch, he emphasises collaboration, building alliances with others “from fighting antisemitism to fighting poverty.

Working together makes the Board successful and strong,” he says.

He promises to form a new advisory group that will work alongside the Board’s executive and “bring deputies, the under-35s and other experts together, to best tackle issues head-on”.

He would also form a “Cobra-style” crisis management team that would be “poised to respond to emergencies: we will be prepared”.

He also proposes to set up a media response team “to ensure our best voices are heard on the airwaves. I will train deputies to present our cause and will strengthen our partnerships with key community organisations including the CST, UJS and CAA.

"It may well be a cliché but the Bible consistently warns that ‘united we stand’. Now is the time.”

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