By Laura Marks, Senior Vice-President, Board of Deputies
When my husband’s work took us to the USA in 2000 I was devastated to leave behind my work in marketing, family, and structures for the uncertainties of Hollywood. However, the journey was about to begin.
Putting our children into a Jewish school and considering life without work, I became involved in our synagogue and its “Mitzvah Day”. Our time in California led directly to today, when I am declaring my intention to stand again as Vice President.
In California, immersed in the Jewish community, we saw its power as an uplifting, positive and self-assuring energy. On our return, I set up Mitzvah Day, originally with the fledgling JW3, and started encouraging people to engage in local issues, to volunteer with people of other faiths and to encourage politicians to attend projects and get to know the Jewish community better. The aim was to be proud, strong, British Jews. We did this then and continue to do so today.
With Mitzvah Day in it’s 5th year, I started to work with a new JLC commission on Women in Jewish Leadership. The aim was to encourage women into leadership roles for the benefit of the whole community.
As chair of this group, I focused on our diversity and similarities. Now, as we implement the ground breaking recommendations at the Board, our community organisations are starting to reap the benefits of this work.
Working with Holocaust Memorial Day, as the vice chair, I have been inspired to see professionals and volunteers working together to put on over 2500 events this year. Looking ahead we want to establish a safe world for all humanity, which is, clearly, today’s agenda.
These organisations demonstrate what can be done with a clear vision, with drive and hard work, with a small but effective team of professionals and volunteers all working together, across the community.
As Senior Vice President of the Board, my role has been to help address some of the complex issues facing our community. The Board is a representative body; it’s the way in which we are able to represent the diversity (and convergence) of Jewish opinion to government, to other faith groups, and to the EU. We do it to ensure that we can lead a Jewish life, with confidence, security and vitality.
One of my priorities at the Board has been to ensure that we support our smallest communities which we know are getting fewer and fewer. Vibrant local communities not only attract new people but crucially, without them we loose vital political representation and, possibly, influence around the nation, hence the establishment of Jewish Connection.
Another priority is boycotts and de-ligitimisation of Israel. In 2013, in partnership with the Israeli Embassy, I established “Closer to Israel”, a project aimed at encouraging people from all backgrounds, to support Israel locally where we all could, and did, get involved.
In nearly three years The Board has come a long way. As the newcomer and with extensive experience outside the Board, I’m delighted and proud to be settled in our modern new premises, with the strongest and largest Jewish public affairs team in the UK. But there is a long way to go, in a difficult climate.
Priorities for the next three years will include; working with government to ensure that our community both is, and feels safe from anti-Semitic attack, more training for our committed volunteer “army” of Deputies, a commitment to rebuilding inter faith relationships, support for faith schools, and fighting boycotts. I also firmly believe the Jewish community must remain a light unto the nations by demanding a fairer life for everyone, regardless of colour, religion or geography.
I am committed to helping to make the Board a driving force at the heart of a vibrant, forward looking, secure Jewish community. The new President will need to focus on the community infrastructure, and on the structure, financing and governance of the Board itself. My role, however, as Vice President, would enable me to devote my time and energy to driving vital projects and creating transformation in key areas both in and outside the Board.
My demonstrable energy and purpose, and my love for our community will enable me to focus on areas where I can make the most difference in the role of VP and as a committed number two. Working with deputies, staff and our sister organisations, I believe, with the continuing support of our community, I can be an effective and inspiring leader in the British, Jewish community.