By Justin Cohen
The Board of Deputies ushered in a new era last weekend with the election of lawyer Jonathan Arkush as president and Richard Verber as senior vice-president – becoming the youngest honorary officer in the organisation’s history.
After what had been billed as one of the most closely-fought and unpredictable elections for decades, Arkush comfortably saw off challenges from his two fellow former vice-presidents to win the top job with Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks and Daily Mail journalist Alex Brummer in second and third respectively.
He said: “Of course not all Deputies have supported me. Why should they? But I want to be a president for all deputies from left to right.” Reflecting on the fact many saw the Borehamwood United Synagogue deputy as the most right-leaning of the candidates, he added that he had been unfairly “typecast” during the campaign. “The Board welcomes everyone.”
He added: “I will make mistake. We’re all human. But with your support I want to have the best possible Board we can.”
Arkush, a deputy for 30 years and long-time chair of the defence division where he has taken a lead in tackling threats to the community including anti-Semitism, has stood out in recent months for his particularly strident criticism of Labour, UKIP and the BBC.
Arkush said he hoped the other two contenders would remain involved as they had much to offer and paid tribute to his predecessor. Vivian Wineman’s intelligence and ability to express difficult concepts had been “of the most immense service to this Board and the community. “Words cannot easily express gratitude we should all feel for him,” said the new president, who was watched by family members including his baby grandson.
The new president famously launched a public attack on the Jewish Leadership Council as “unelected, unrepresentative” which sparked fury among some leading communal figures but found favour among many on the Board’s back-benches. He has since said he would work for unification.
Having then been previously removed as a member of a committee looking at closer ties between the JLC and Board, Arkush new takes up an automatic position on the council, which took to Twitter to offer mazeltov wishes. The council of the JLC will now elect a new chair to succeed Vivian Wineman.
Marks also offered her congratulations. “Have enjoyed our three years together immensely”, she said.
He was also welcomed warmly to the role by religious figures from across the spectrum including Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. And rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism, said: “We have worked together on a number of matters related to the Muslim and Christian communities. We have a strong and positive working relationship and I very much look forward to continuing that.”
Richard Verber, campaigns chief at World Jewish Relief, attracted 100 more first preference votes than any of his five rivals for vice-president – becoming the youngest honorary officer by more than two decades in the body’s history.
The 30-year-old, who created Changing the Board and will now head the Board’s international division, said he was “blown away by the phenomenal support. I look forward to making the Board a welcoming place for all deputies, with induction and training for everybody. We need to put the Board back at the heart of the community so they understand and support the work we do”.
He added: “Given the huge majority, we have a strong mandate for change. We need to embark immediately on a set of reforms to make the organisation fit for the 21 st century. Reforms aren’t sexy, they involve constitional wrangling and will ruffle fathers. But I promise to lead on that even though it will take a couple of years”.
Verber will be the senior vice-president alongside vice-presidents Marie Van Der Zyl and Sheila Gewolb – who Arkush appointed to head the defence and community issues divisions respectively. The result means, with Board Chief Executive Gillian Merron, there are now three men and three women at the top table.
Among those offering their congratulations to the new team was Kevin Sefton, chair of Limmud, which Verber represents on the Board and whose conference he chaired in 2013. “He is creative and delivers,” he said of the 30-year-old.
Stuart Macdonald won double as many votes as former vice-president Jerry Lewis to become treasurer. He will now head the finance and organisation division.