As you may have already read, I have decided not to make myself available for re-election as Chairman of the JLC. Nor will I be a candidate for the Board of Trustees. I have been Chairman for 8 years. Before that, as Chairman of UJIA, I was a member of the JLC’s then Executive Committee. After more than a decade at the heart of UK Jewish Life the time is right to allow others with equal passion to take the Community forward with a fresh vision.
I am proud of what we have achieved together. During my tenure, the number of member organisations doubled to 32, representing almost every facet of the Jewish Community up and down the country. By working together, JLC member organisations have achieved and will achieve far more than we ever could working alone.
From its inception, the JLC has been accused by some of being non-representative. Some critics have traduced our members and lay leaders and, ironically, those who have made the largest financial contributions to the community have received the most abuse. Yet I have never come across a JLC trustee who sought status from their position; rather they have brought their stature to benefit the work of the JLC and its members and contributed mightily to UK Jewry. Our membership now comprises most synagogue bodies, almost all the welfare organisations, almost all the Zionist and Israel focused organisations, and organisations which secure, educate, train and represent our community. Far from being unrepresentative, the JLC has provided real representation for the 21st century British Jewish community.
Throughout my time as Chairman, I have made it a priority to identify the opportunities and risks for Jewish communal life and tried to create an environment to address them strategically.
It started with education. There can be no Jewish future without Jewish education. With more children than ever in Jewish schools, we launched our Education Commission and its findings have profoundly improved the formal education of British Jewish students. Today, PaJeS carries out indispensable work ensuring the excellence of our schools, their staff and leadership, instilling in our children Jewish and British knowledge and values in a safe and secure environment. Beyond the classroom, the Youth Commission’s recommendations, including the setting up of Reshet, will raise the standards of informal education for young British Jews for years to come.
We engaged with Israel because Israel is the epicentre of the Jewish Identity for most Jews in this country. There can be no meaningful sense of belonging to the Jewish People without meaningful engagement with the Jewish State. I am proud that our community stands unapologetically with Israel. We’ve held parades for Israel’s 60th and 65th anniversaries unprecedented in scale and rallies of support when Israel has been forced to defend itself from terror, even when some warned it was too dangerous or too sensitive. We can look forward to the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration when we will again give the Jewish community and our friends the chance to celebrate our unbreakable connection to Israel with joy and confidence. We have responded to the threat of anti-Zionist assaults on Israel and our connection to it, building capacity across the UK, strengthening grassroots support, engaging with both central and regional influencers and organising relevant campaigns to buttress the community in times of strife.
We prioritised leadership. We cannot sustain our strategic advantages unless new, inspiring and competent future leaders are willing and able to take the helm. Lead seeks out and prepares the leaders of tomorrow. But the community cannot fulfil its potential if its women are insufficiently engaged in leadership roles. In 2011 women comprised only a fifth of all trustees in British Jewish organisations. We established a Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership and as a result of its recommendations steady progress has been made and the gender balance is being addressed.
We recognised that we cannot flourish without innovation. So we set up the Community Chest, providing seed capital to fund innovation and growth.
More recently we have started to come to terms with the welfare challenges that our community faces. The community is aging. If we are to be true to the ethos of care that is part and parcel of our heritage we need to understand the welfare needs of UK Jewry and put in place arrangements that will be up to the task ahead.
The next Chair will inherit an evolving and complex set of challenges.
Anti-Semitism and the delegitimisation of Israel and Zionism will grow. Our children will face growing complexity and difficult choices. We will have to find ways to support and nurture them so that they can maintain the heritage of our people into the next generation and beyond with confidence and integrity.
Funding the community is more difficult than ever before. More and more funds are required from fewer and fewer donors. That is not sustainable in the long term and new models of funding and philanthropy will need to be developed.
The growth of the Charedi communities relative to the size of the mainstream community has barely been acknowledged let alone addressed. We must be respectful of the ethos of these communities while finding ways to engage constructively with them – they are a very substantial part of the future of UK Jewry.
Our communal architecture is not fit for purpose. Too many charities and organisations compete in the same space for the same resource. Every need must be met but philanthropic leaders have a duty to seek out a more efficient and effective approach. I feel I must note my regret that the Board of Deputies and the JLC could not achieve closer organisational alignment during my tenure. The underlying unifying principles agreed some time ago by the joint working group of both organisations were a powerful basis for progress and I hope this work will not lie fallow for too long. I am, however, pleased that a positive working relationship exists between the two executive teams – when that prevails the community prospers.
I predict I will continue to grapple with these challenges. Although I am standing down as JLC Chairman, I am not standing down from communal life. It will surprise few that I will never be shy to offer an opinion. But these challenges become the direct responsibility of my successor, who will have my full support.
The next Chair will find a professional team led by Simon Johnson that is better equipped than ever to engage across our community and our country in support of our members and to meet the strategic imperatives of the community. I believe that the work of the JLC is vital in nurturing a vibrant, forward-thinking and outward-facing Jewish Community of Great Britain.
It is inspiring work to be a part of. It has been inspiring work to lead and work for the good of the Jewish community.