Q & A With The Director Of The Zionist Federation Arieh Miller

Having recently become a member of The JLC, what opportunities do you hope to get from joining and what expertise will the Zionist Federation offer to the JLC and its member organisations?

The Zionist Federation is very excited to join the JLC. After many years of working alongside and together with the organisation, it is a pleasure to now sit within the JLC’s broad umbrella. The ZF too is an umbrella organisation, with constituent members from the left to the right both politically and religiously, all coming together under one common ideology, Zionism. The ZF is proud to bring this umbrella within the JLC, working to bring a grassroots but established Zionist voice to the table, whilst gaining a huge amount from the collective knowledge, influence and credibility of the JLC.

What has been the biggest challenges you have faced since becoming Director – both personally and as an organisation?

When I joined the Zionist Federation, I joined as the youngest Executive Director in the family of Jewish Community organisations. Whilst this was a conscious choice for the ZF (encapsulating our belief in promoting and supporting the young members of our Zionist community), it was certainly not a simple one. I had a lot to learn and the community (not least my own lay leadership) had high expectations and held me to a very high bar. Taking all of that into account, I benefitted immensely from my background in a range of community organisations, my experience in managing a variety of different projects, groups and people, and some incredibly supportive community leaders around me, not least the JLC’s own Simon Johnson, who seemed more than willing to help me through that metaphorical first 100 days. As an organisation we are facing the same problem that many organisations of our size face, and that is the future funding gap that comes from the younger generation (actually my generation) and our gap in philanthropic giving. It is something that we are focusing on to ensure that Zionism has a strong and vibrant future here in the UK.

What is the most exciting project the Zionist Federation is currently involved in?

It is near impossible to put my finger on just one exciting project we are currently working on. Whether it is our work with students, with the youth movements, with Israeli innovation or bringing some of Israel’s top speakers to the UK, I am immensely proud to be able to be working professionally in a field I truly love and believe in. That being said, this coming year we will be celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, a document originally written for conveyance to the Zionist Federation all those years ago. This is a project I am incredibly excited to not only be a part of, but also to be leading an organisation that played such a central role in it’s creation, and will play a central role in its celebration. Working with our partners on the Balfour 100 committee has been a true show of what community organisations can do when we all come together to speak with one voice. I am very excited to see and plan for what the centenary year has to offer.

What do you think the community will look like in 15 years’ time?

An age old question which I think still has no solid answer. You only have to watch Back to the Future to know that these kind of predictions are rarely correct. That being said, I think the community is in a state of change at the moment, and as communal organisations we have a need, a duty to change with our community. We need to look at where our young people are in their learning, in the beliefs and in their desires and provide for them, not expect them to fit into the mould of our current provision. We need to look at what is important to our community and help them to shape their beliefs and passions rather than try and shape it for them. In 15 years’ time we will have a digital community, lapping up every piece of information online, so we need to be there. We will have a strong community with incredible leaders if the people I grew up with in this community are anything to go by. My peers are already Rabbis, Teachers, Community professionals and lay leaders, and in 15 years’ time they will be the people running our community. The question isn’t really what will the community look like in 15 years’ time, but rather what can we do NOW to reach that dream?

What motivates you to be involved in communal life?

I am a product of this community. Growing up immersed in Jewish life – Youth movements, Limmud, Jewish schools, Gap year in Israel. You name it, I did it. But I was never satisfied. I am and have always been ambitious. I believe if you see something you don’t like, you should and MUST be the person to make that change. There are too many people who shout from the side lines, criticising every and any aspect of our community when actually if they had a bit of commitment and willingness, they could put themselves in a position to help rather than just to hinder. I like to be challenged and our community is certainly a challenge but one that I am excited to face. But most importantly I am (and want to be) involved in communal life because I truly love our community. It is a community of many parts, some that talk to others and some that don’t. Some that agree with others and some that don’t. But that is exactly what I love about our community. That you can hold near enough any desire, any belief and still find a space within our Jewish community. That is what makes me excited every day to know that this is the community I have grown up in, this is the community I work for and this is the community I will be a part of long into the future.