In the first of a series of interviews with our members we talk to James Libson. The New Leadership Network was established by the JLC as a forum for future leaders of our communal organisations. Two NLN representatives sit on the JLC itself.
1. What motivates you to be involved in communal life?
Actually, I love the community. Despite the slightly sceptical tone of the day, most people I come across who are involved are because of a genuine affection for the community and concern for its wellbeing. I am extremely proud of what we have achieved in terms of education, welfare, support for Israel and involvement in the currency of British life. There is much to be done, but our achievements show that, with good will, we can look after ourselves, educate our children, revive Jewish life and actively contribute a fantastic amount to the wider community. Those prospects are extremely invigorating.
2. What is the most exciting project that you are currently involved in?
I am about to take over from Nigel Layton as the Chairman of World Jewish Relief.
3. How has the community changed in recent years from your perspective?
We have two narratives - each propelling us in a direction opposite to the other. On the one hand, there is a feeling of and evidence of a renaissance of Jewish life. Thriving schools, well supported charities, 1000s of children on educational programmes in Israel, increased cultural activity. On the other hand, there is a feeling of a huge existential threat, increased anti semitism, fear about Israel, despair at how it is treated, a feeling that we wield less influence than we used to or need to. Both narratives, I think, are true. The community needs to embrace both. Rather than polarising into one or other of the two camps, we should celebrate our successes; enjoy our Judaism; create a community that can inspire our children, but continue to increase our vigilance, more fiercely protect our own interests and refute the injustices done to Israel in our environment.
4. What is your top priority as the incoming chair of World Jewish Relief?
Nigel's chairmanship has taken WJR into the centre of Anglo Jewish life. We look after the needs of the desperately poor and disadvantaged members of Jewish communities in the FSU as well as being our community's response to disasters around the globe. The work is important and the need is acute. As well as that WJR represents the Jewish imperative not only to look after ourselves but to give, as Jews, to others in terrible need. First I want to continue the work. I don't want a single person assisted by WJR to lose that assistance if it is still required. I want to continue the initiatives we have designed to take people out of poverty and to support themselves with dignity. And I want WJR to grow its influence as a loud Jewish voice promoting social justice both in the Jewish and the non Jewish worlds.
5. How have the JLC and New Leadership Network added value to your work in the community?
The network we have created in the NLN has led to a cohort of people who are stepping into important communal positions to really get to know each other and to develop a broad vision of what we would like to achieve and, importantly, of how we would like to achieve it. I have not met anyone who is interested in broiguses or who has the time to grandstand. I hope we can continue to work in that way. As to the JLC I have been impressed by the serious way in which it approaches the issues it tackles as well as the support across communal divides of the people around the table for projects of communal importance.