Jenni Frazer at Board of Deputies hustings
The strictest time-keeping at the Board of Deputies’ Orthodox hustings on Sunday – co-sponsored by the United Synagogue and the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of British Jews – meant that few candidates for the posts of president, vice-presidents or treasurer got the opportunity to speak about their ambitions for very long.
But there were some sharp questions – and some odd moments – from the Edgware Synagogue audience.
The candidates have fielded questions at a Manchester hustings, and at a Progressive synagogue event. Moderator Vicki Belovski refused to allow questions on issues which had already been aired in the Jewish press, so the three presidential hopefuls were fairly lightly grilled.
Nevertheless, there were inconsistencies. Alex Brummer, Jonathan Arkush and Laura Marks were asked if they were members of a political party – none of them is. But David Berens, one of the six bidders for the three vice-presidential posts, made it clear that he has already served as a Westminster councillor – for the Conservative Party. A deputy for JNF UK, he pledged that if elected the Board would only deal on interfaith issues with organisations which recognised the state of Israel and fought against terrorism.
Lining up with Mr Berens were Cardiff deputy Sheila Gewolb, who has raised more than £45,000 for the Board through presidential dinners, and who chaired the most recent event with Archbishop Justin Welby. She brought the Board’s Jewish Living exhibition to Carlisle and represents the Board on the Welsh Standing Advisory Committee for Religious Education.
Employment lawyer Marie van der Zyl, a deputy for West London Synagogue, emphasised her Orthodox credentials as a former member of B’nei Akiva. She has been a member of the Board’s Finance and Operations Committee and is keen on better training for deputies in media response. If elected, she said, she would like to run the defence committee because of the enormous challenge of antisemitism in the UK.
Also bidding for a vice-presidential post was North Salford Synagogue’s Roslyn Pine. Unlike the other candidates she has not served on any divisions since joining the Board two and a half years ago.But, she declared, she has “been to places very few deputies go,” referring to her activism in attending anti-Israel meetings and demonstrations.
She wanted to use her knowledge of Israel’s nationalist claims in order to combat repeated attacks on the Jewish state. For Mrs Pine, the single issue is antisemitism and the rise of the pro-Palestinian activists.
Tal Ofer represents Chigwell and Hainult Synagogue on the Board and has taken part in a number of campaigns, including demonstrations against the Tricycle Theatre’s decision last summer to return a grant from Israel which resulted in the withdrawal of the annual Jewish Film Festival. Mr Ofer was keen to hold “Question Time” meetings throughout the country in order to encourage more participation in the deputies’ work.
And the sixth candidate was Mancunian Richard Verber, at just 30 one of the youngest members of the Board. He has represented Limmud and has worked on the “Changing the Board” inclusivist campaign, billed as “revolution, without the blood”.
If elected he would hope to run the international division as his work with World Jewish Relief already gives him a global perspective on the Jewish world. Mr Verber said too little attention was being paid to young Jews who were not affiliated to any synagogue, and that currently the Board was not sufficiently representative, either geographically or denominationally.
Though the presidential and vice-presidential hustings could be characterised as relatively good-humoured, the same could not be said of the two men bidding to become Board treasurer.
Liberal Judaism deputy Stuart McDonald, currently vice-chair of the Finance Committee, has a long career history working in investment and hedge funds, and is due to participate in a major hedge fund conference taking place in Tel Aviv.
The Board, he said, “needs to be a lot smarter” about additional fund-raising sources. “This is not going to be improvised, it needs to be planned”, he said, indicating that he already has a plan in place. But he dismissed his opponent Jerry Lewis, the long-serving deputy for Hampstead Synagogue and a former vice-president of the Board. “Passion and enthusiasm won’t get us to where we need to be”, Mr McDonald said. Until there were protests from the audience, Mr McDonald insisted that Mr Lewis spoke first – and then repudiated his arguments.
Mr Lewis said that the previous treasurer, Lawrence Brass, had complained that financial decisions which he took had been ignored or rejected by other honorary officers. But Mr McDonald declared that should he be elected, that would not happen. He stood, he said pointedly, “for teamwork without getting up people’s noses.”