My life changed when I met a survivor in 1983. The profound nature of their story, the welcome I was given in their home, and the incredible success of their family, left a deep affinity and respect for the Jewish community that has stayed with me for over thirty years. Previous visits to Israel have brought alive the dynamism of Tel Aviv, the humbling experience of Yad Vashem, and the unparalleled history of Jerusalem. It is with a sense of huge honour and commitment that I joined the JLC in January.
My 1980s stint in student politics, of course, brought a positive working relationship with UJS. Now those student contacts are being renewed again in my role at the JLC. And Gillian Merron, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies, had her career in student politics during my time at Lancaster. I followed her onto the student union executive.
Much of my career in heading public affairs has been on the road, leveraging the political strengths of major supermarkets like Tesco. Meeting and listening to our community leaders across the country has been an early priority, and very productive consultations have already been held with JLC Council Members as well as lay leaders in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.
Strengthening and helping Jewish society in the great UK cities is key to JLC external affairs strategy.
We will support this step-change in communal capacity through partnership, consultation and investment. We must create a communal capacity outside of London that is fit for the future and brings real help to leaders in those cities. That work is now getting underway.
An essential way of bringing us together is through celebrating the key communal anniversaries that are fast approaching. The 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street this October reminds us of the community’s moral heritage in confronting racism and fascism. The Centenary of Balfour in November 2017 gives us a chance to reaffirm the historic and unbreakable bond between Britain and the Jewish homeland. The JLC will play a facilitating and amplifying role to help all members of the community mark these moments appropriately.
While we have much positive work to do, it is important to recognise the challenges facing our community. The rise of antisemitic rhetoric seeking legitimacy in the guise of criticism of Israel is pushed by an aggressive and well-funded BDS movement. They seek to delegitimise both the Jewish state and the Jewish people. We must confront and defeat this pernicious rhetoric, and positive working relationships between all communal organisations will be vital in achieving this.
I look forward to meeting more colleagues and working with you. Together we are stronger.