By Justin Cohen, News editor
Luciana Berger stressed the pivotal impact of murdered student leader Alan Senitt on her career during a celebration of Jewish News’ project to identify the community’s young leaders.
The Labour MP – who topped the Forty Under 40 countdown – joked she was honoured to “win something other than an election” – during a party at Facebook HQ, at which she was joined by most of those featured in that list as well as the Twenty Five Under 25 countdown.
Among them was Twenty Five number one, UJS chair Ella Rose. Speaking at a reception attended by the majority of those on the lists, the politician said: “I’m here because of other people encouraging me to put myself forward, who said there should be no barriers. “I have fond memories of experiences in Jewish youth movements – I was involved in BBYO, RSY, UJS, I was a proud Jewish student in the NUS where I got my political education. I spent a number of years volunteering for Norwood. All of those experiences and the values we learn in terms of tikkun olam and how we can make a contribution to our community and the wider world have led me to where I am today.”
She counted fellow Liverpool MP Louise Ellman as among her inspiration and reserved special thanks for former UJS chief Alan Senitt, who was murdered in 2006, who encouraged her to stand for a place at NUS conference while still a first year student at Birmingham University. “I won that election and that’s what essentially got me into politics,” she recalled, as her parents looked on proudly. “I’ve no doubt if he were here with us today, he would be number one in the list and with me in Parliament. I have to thank him for a large part of what I’m doing today.”
Her mother said she was “over the moon and so proud” of the honour, which comes only weeks before she gets married and weeks after her overwhelming re-election in Liverpool Wavertree. Around 400 entries were received for the countdowns, which were sponsored by the Jewish Leadership Council. Its chief executive Simon Johnson, panel chair Andrew Gilbert and Jewish News editor Richard Ferrer addressed the gathering.
The event was hosted by Nicola Mendelsohn, head of Facebook for Europe and the Middle East, who hailed the near 50:50 split between men and women in the lists and urged guests to reflect on a popular Facebook mantra: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
As the group enjoyed treats provided by Kosher Deli – including, as Mendelsohn pointed out, a Facebook debut for fishballs – they didn’t need asking twice in taking up her other challenge to build new connections. “We are stronger, wiser and more powerful when we band together,” added Mendelsohn. “I want all of you to make a point to meet a few people you don’t know yet, to share your own bold vision and hear about the bold visions of others,” she added. “Think of the ways you can help each other achieve those visions – all of us together are better than any one of us alone.”
After picking up her trophy, Rose paid tribute to UJS executive director David Brown (number 11 on 40 Under) as the “most inspirational and creative leader” and pointed out that at least 16 of the under 25s have been student leaders.
She said: “The winners here represent all sections of UJS activity on campus, from J-Soc presidents, winners of our most prestigious awards, key student politicians fighting for Jewish voices to be heard, founders of liberation networks to full-time UJS staff. I believe ‘you get what you give’. It is clear that these amazing activists have given their heart and souls to the Jewish student community. The trend of UJS involvement continues right to the top of the under 40s. Previous presidents, key activists and J-Soc leaders. Reading your illustrious biographies I’m convinced UJS must have done something right.”
Jewish News editor Richard Ferrer said: “This newspaper is all about recognising potential and celebrating success and that’s what these lists are all about. It’s gratifying to know that our community will be in safe and skilful hands for many years to come.”
Photo credit: Neville Bloom Photography