In his opening essay in The Jewish Year Book 2013, former JLC CEO Jeremy Newmark discusses the background, structure and work of the JLC.
The British Jewish community is very much like modern Britain itself – a mixture of old hallowed tradition and dynamic innovation. This fusion is also seen in the organisations that make up Jewish life: although many have their origins in the 18th Century, some are less than a decade old.
The Jewish Leadership Council is one of the latter sort. In the nine short years since it was founded, it has become a key part of the Jewish community’s architecture. Despite this, its role isn’t always well-understood in the wider Jewish community. Two of the most frequently-asked questions about the JLC are “who are you” and “what do you actually do?”
Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is like this: the Jewish Leadership Council is the umbrella trade body for major British Jewish communal organisations. Just as charities in the UK come together to form the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and tour operators join the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), so do the major institutions of UK Jewish life join as members of the JLC.
Every JLC member organisation (see the endnote for a list) has one person on the Council of Membership, which is the JLC’s highest body. This person is usually their most senior lay-leader: the President or Chair.
Each member organisation has its own procedures for choosing its most senior lay-leader; some, like the United Synagogue or Board of Deputies, elect them directly, while others are elected or selected by an organisation’s own Board. This means that the makeup of the Council of Membership is in the hands of the JLC’s member organisations.
The Council of Membership sets the JLC’s priorities. It also elects and oversees the JLC’s Trustees, who manage the organisation.
This ‘coalition of organisations’ model also helps explain what the JLC does, which is mainly things that a group of major Jewish organisations would expect its umbrella body to do.
First of all, the Jewish Leadership Council helps its member organisations. It does this by organising projects that all its member organisations can benefit from (like shared purchasing) and by supporting member organisations in their own strategic goals.
Secondly, the JLC works to ensure the health of the Jewish voluntary sector, both through internal strategic planning for the future and, where necessary, though external campaigning and lobbying. A good example of this was the JLC’s role in the wider 2012 campaign against changes to the Gift Aid system that would have negatively impacted most Jewish charities.
Thirdly, the JLC plans for the future of the UK Jewish community. It does this though commissioning research, holding seminars and supporting leadership development.
Finally, the Council works to ensure that there is a positive public policy environment for the British Jewish community. Taking the lead from its member organisations — who are experts in the policy areas in which they work — the JLC coordinates internally so that the Jewish community has a connected and forward-looking approach to policy.
Of course, much of the actual policy output is delivered by the JLC’s member organisations rather than the Council itself. In this, as in many other areas of work, the JLC’s closest and most important working partnership is with the Board of Deputies.
The Board was created in 1760 as the official representative body of the Jewish community as a whole. The Jewish Leadership Council has a different role, representing its member organisations — the major institutions of British Jewry. These are different types of mandate and are reflected in the different work that that Board and the JLC do. As an example, the Board is much more likely to actively comment on issues that British Jews rightly feel strongly about, for example anti-Israel media articles or if a public figure makes comments that are offensive to the Jewish community. The JLC, on the other hand, rarely does this unless the issue impacts on the strategic wellbeing of the UK Jewish community.
JLC staff and lay-leaders talk to those of the Board of Deputies every day. This relationship hasn’t always been well-communicated to all of the hundreds of Deputies themselves, let alone to the wider Jewish public, but it has consistently been the case since the beginning of the Council. In a Board of 275 Deputies, it is no surprise that some are outspoken critics of the JLC, just as some are frequently in opposition to the Board itself!
One commonly-asked question is “why does the Jewish community need a JLC now, when it managed without one for hundreds of years?” This is not an entirely good question; innovation doesn’t have to challenge what came before. The Jewish community carried on for hundreds of years without Limmud but it is now one of British Jewry’s greatest global success stories. However, there are some excellent reasons why the JLC came to exist when it did, and these relate to changes in the Jewish community and in the wider British political environment. Most obviously, many of the JLC’s member organisations didn’t exist 20 years ago!
A Changed Environment
Throughout the 1990s a series of mergers and consolidations changed the landscape of the British Jewish community. Perhaps the first of these was the merger of the Jewish Blind Society and the Jewish Welfare Board in 1990 to create Jewish Care, making it then the largest Jewish welfare organisation. Jewish Care continued to grow as several other smaller social care charities merged with it.
In 1993, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks began to campaign for the Jewish community to devote more energy to the agenda of Jewish continuity. He published a book called Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren, which acted as a rallying cry to this agenda, and pushed for the creation of a new organisation called Jewish Continuity which would give grants to develop projects for educating the UK Jewish community and on ensuring a continuing Jewish life. Jewish Continuity began to act as a central funder for many organisations that had previously had to raise money separately.
In a relatively short time, Jewish Continuity went into partnership with the Joint Israel Appeal, a large charity that raised money primarily for Israel. This partnership led to a full merger by 1997, creating the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) which raises money and gives grants both for developing the State of Israel and for Jewish education and renewal projects in the UK.
Another key merger in the 1990s was between two large social care organisations. Norwood, which provided care for disadvantaged and disabled children and families, merged with Ravenswood, a charity which ran a village for developmentally-challenged children. Norwood-Ravenswood (later renamed simply ‘Norwood’) became another major organisation.
At the same time, other changes were occurring. A massive increase in Jewish schools changed the primary way that many Jewish families affiliated with the wider Jewish community.
Mainstream public hostility to Israel was low in the 1990s during the Oslo process, and the Jewish community de-emphasised Israel advocacy and diverted resources into Jewish renewal. The start of the Second Intifada in 2000 brought Israel back into the international spotlight. Existing Jewish organisations couldn’t respond to this new hostility alone. BICOM was created as a new agency to lead on Israel Advocacy work, especially in the media and broader ‘opinion-elite’ discourse.
The Second Intifada also triggered a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment worldwide, including Britain. This increased threat led to more work for CST, the UK Jewish community’s defence agency (by now well established as a specialist independent entity, having moved on from its previous iteration as the CSO, which operated under the governance of the Board of Deputies).
By 2003, then, the Jewish community’s infrastructure looked very different to how it had in 1990. The mergers and development created big Jewish community organisations with expertise and experience in their respective sectors. When the British Government wanted to know how a policy impacted on the Jewish community, there was often confusion as to who to consult with; the sector organisation might give one answer, the Board of Deputies another, while yet different reactions might come from individual Jewish community leaders with their own relationships with the relevant Minister.
The confusion was unsustainable. In 2003, Henry Grunwald QC, then President of the Board of Deputies, was frustrated by this apparent lack of coordination. He was invited to join an ongoing series of meetings with like-minded communal leaders — including Sir Trevor Chinn, Gerald Ronson, Lord Levy and David Cohen — which led to the creation of the Jewish Community Leadership Council.
The new JCLC was to act as a coordinating body between major UK Jewish organisations and leaders. The structure was partly based on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations. Henry Grunwald became the Council’s first Chairman, a position he held jointly with his presidency of the Board of Deputies.
The new Council’s first significant event was a meeting at Downing Street with the Prime Minister – the first such meeting between the Jewish Community and Tony Blair since his election seven years earlier. These meetings became a regular fixture and an important point of contact between the PM of the day and Jewish leaders.
The Council, changing its name to to the shorter “Jewish Leadership Council”, continued to develop, and at that point I was hired as its first full-time Chief Executive. Until that point professional staff support was provided by Douglas Krikler, who combined the role with the post of Executive Vice-Chairman and subsequently Chief Executive of UJIA. During the recruitment process it was made clear to me that the priorities were to move the nascent JLC beyond just a framework for joined up conversation and to establish it as an entity that could marshal communal resource to deliver major projects, whilst also investing central energies into institutionalising political relationships, to get ahead of a period of expected political change.
One of its first major pieces of work in this period was to begin a shared purchasing scheme to help Jewish charities and schools make savings by aggregating purchasing power. Over its lifetime, this scheme has saved Jewish organisations more than a million pounds around three quarters of which are annually repeated savings. Today, this project continues as the JLC Purchasing Club and is also open to Jewish schools.
The JLC also launched a Commission into the future of Jewish Schools. This Commission followed the style of a Parliamentary Select Committee and took formal evidence, both written and oral, from the sector as well as communal organisations and experts. The Commission’s final report made a number of key recommendations for Jewish schools sector. To ensure the report was carried out, the JLC created, funded and ran an implementation group which spent three years ensuring the strategic development of Jewish schools.
The 2006 Lebanon War was a major shock to the British Jewish community. The attacks on Israel in the public sphere were especially harsh, and led to an enormous spike in antisemitic incidents. The JLC was determined to find out what went wrong, and commissioned crisis-management experts to investigate. This report led changes in the role of BICOM and proposed a new crisis-response structure. Unfortunately, this structure has had to be tested practically a number of times, most obviously during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9.
About the same time, the Council joined with the Board of Deputies to found the anti-boycott Fair Play Campaign Group. Fair Play acts as a co-ordinating framework for pro-Israel groups, in a similar way that the JLC coordinates between major Jewish organisations.
When organising collective community events, Jewish organisations always came together to form committees to run them. With the JLC acting as a standing coalition of organisations, it became called on to deliver or support these shared community events. The best example of this was Salute to Israel, a major parade though Central London followed by rallies in London and Manchester to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. In addition to playing a coordinating role, in this instance JLC took the decision to proceed with the event. Many external commentators highlighted the decision to take to the streets in support of Israel in this manner as a seminal moment for a community often criticised for being too passive in such matters.
As the JLC continued developing, the work involved in running it increased. After Henry Grunwald’s term as Board of Deputies president ended, the JLC’s chairmanship was split – new Board President Vivian Wineman becoming Chair of the Council, while UJIA Chair Mick Davis became Chair of the JLC’s Trustees. The JLC went through a detailed internal review and restructuring. The most important element of this new structure was the end of ad personam members, who had previously sat on the JLC as individual leaders. These members voluntarily gave up their JLC seats, firmly establishing the Council as a body for the heads of Jewish organisations only. The wisdom, expertise and contacts of the ad personam members was nevertheless retained through the creation of a group of Vice-Presidents, deeply involved in the JLC’s work but with no formal role in its goverance.
At approximately the same time, the JLC founded a Community Wellbeing Committee to better coordinate the Jewish community’s responses to changes in the policy and political environment, and hired a Head of Policy to support this work. (This Committee is commonly known as the ‘Political Oversight Group’.)
Key areas of work included the Big Society, a government paradigm about the role of voluntary organisations in civil society. The JLC produced a major policy paper on the Big Society and the Jewish Community and held several meetings with the Government on the issue. Additionally, the Council led efforts to prevent the abuse of universal jurisdiction laws against visiting Israelis such as Tzippi Livni (ultimately leading to a change in the law), addressed the consequences of the Coalition Government’s localism agenda and worked on the possible unintentional impact of new equality laws on Jewish organisations.
In the last 18 months in particular, the JLC has been focusing on the future of the Jewish community.
One of the most frequent and fairest criticisms of the JLC is that it is made up of “old men”. This isn’t the JLC’s fault — as noted above, it is member organisations that choose their JLC reps — but it is a symptom of a wider phenomenon in the Jewish community; a leadership which is generally older and generally more male. As a strategic body, the Council has tried to tackle both of these problems.
One of the JLC’s earlier projects was helping to establish a New Leadership Network, which would nurture leaders in Jewish organisations and give them a support network. The New Leadership Network elected members to the JLC and developed into an independent organisation, but was focused on already-senior leaders who were preparing to take the final step to become trustees or Chairpeople.
To address the issue of Jewish leadership more generally, the JLC launched LEAD: Jewish Leadership Excellence and Development. LEAD is a centre for Jewish Leadership. Existing successful programmes like the Adam Science Foundation Leadership Programme have been brought into LEAD, as well as new projects for the whole Jewish community. Nicky Goldman, formally Head of Leadership Development at UJIA was hired to run this division of the JLC.
The Council trued to lead by example in the sphere of leadership development; every year, one recent graduate is selected for a ‘JLC Fellowship’, a salaried role which allows the candidate to gain community leadership experience.
Women are under-represented in the leadership of Jewish organisations. To address this problem, the JLC established, funded and supported a Commission on Women in Leadership, following the earlier success of the Schools Commission. The autonomous Commission conducted research and found that under-representation of women occurred in Jewish student organisations and across the community. It held interviews and workshops and produced a final report with recommendations that will be implemented and monitored.
Continuing the work of the Schools Strategy Implementation Group, there was a demand for a permanent agency to consider the strategic development of Jewish schools and to provide them with some central services. The JLC responded to this demand by creating “Partnerships for Jewish Schools”, a new division of the Council, which also incorporates the Jewish Curriculum Partnership. Alastair Falk, a former leading headteacher was hired to run this division of the JLC. Still in the world of Jewish schools, the JLC is helping to oversee and finance a major restructuring of Jewish schooling in Redbridge, which will involve a significant construction and expansion of the site of King David School to include a new building for Ilford Jewish Primary School.
Threats to Israel’s legitimacy also impact on the wellbeing of the British Jewish community as a whole. For this reason, the JLC has been bringing together other communal organisations and working on a number of long-term projects to address this concern.
Perhaps most radically, the Jewish Leadership Council has championed the creation of a Community Chest fund to provide funding for those central services which haven’t traditionally fallen under the remit of any one organisation. Examples include support for small Jewish communities, central institutional work, leadership development and community research. This project, a flagship initiative of Mick Davis (Chair of JLC Trustees) was initially met in equal measure by enthusiasm and scepticism: “It’s a great idea but it’ll impossible to achieve”. However, in less than a year since its inception, the Community Chest is up and running and is paying out its first grants.
Another new project, called “Community Vitality”, is constructing measurable indicators of the health of Jewish life. Once the model is complete, it will be possible to publish regular updates of the vitality of the British Jewish community, which will help in identifying risks and focussing resource allocation.
Today, the Jewish Leadership Council contributes to a whole range of areas of UK Jewish life. Many of the projects that it currently runs or coordinates would simply not be happening if they hadn’t been initiated, nurtured and championed by the JLC.
As the Jewish Leadership Council nears its 10th anniversary, it is hard not to consider what it will look like in in another decade. The JLC was an organisation born in change, which has changed itself several times over its short existence and has been a catalyst for change throughout the Jewish community and the world as a whole. Certainly the Jewish community will always need strategic planning, coordinated action and a focus on the future. Some of its past projects have since become independent organisations, while other existing projects have moved under its umbrella, and this might carry on in the future. One thing is certain; the JLC’s flexibility and agility are a part of its success and its usefulness to the Jewish community as a whole.