By Haim Ben-Zion
It is a pleasure to once again report on my work with the Board of Deputies (BoD) on behalf of SAMS.
As your deputy I have two roles, one to represent the Board to the SAMS constituency and Trustees of course, and second, equally important, if not more so, to positively represent SAMS at the Board.
So, regarding the first role of representing the BoD to you all.
In brief, a reminder of who the BoD is and what it stands for, namely a democratically elected representative organisation for the non-haredi British Jewish community to formulate policy, programmes and activities to protect and defend our rights as Jews, to civil rights and our right to maintain our customs and practices.
What has BoD achieved over the past year?
The answer is, actually, a huge amount of behind the scenes work by the Education, Defence and International divisions. The list is long, but includes the establishment of Schitah UK and Milah UK, publications such as the ‘Employers Guide to Judaism’, and ‘The Definitive Resource for Judaism GCSE’ by Clive Lawton, now in its second print run.
In the media, we have seen BoD as prominent in addressing issues of antisemitism within the left and in the Labour Party in particular. Under the leadership of President Jonathan Arkush, the BoD has proven itself as an organisation with teeth, and has won the respect of Government as the primary representative of British Jews. The BoD have taken antisemites to task; Naz Shah, Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone and others; has directly met with Parliamentary leaders and confronted Jeremy Corbyn over these issues and the whitewash of the Chakrabati report into antisemitism and racism in the Labour Party. Indeed, BoD activity contributed to the redefinition of antisemitism by the European Parliament – the EUMC, which now includes denial of Jewish rights to self-determination and double standards applied to Israel.
On campus, the BoD has discretely supported UJS in combatting antisemitism and anti-zionism, and co-produced the ‘Bridges not Boycotts’ campaign to directly challenge the annual Israel Apartheid Week and activities of the BDS. The key here was to actually listen to our Jewish students and understand what tools they want and not what we adults, including former Jewish student leaders, think they need. In recent incidents the BoD and UJS have together taken Universities to task, including Oxford, UCL and LSE.
Now to my role of representing SAMS on the Board.
In terms of attendance I have only missed two plenary meetings out of 16 over the past two years. I have attended both regional plenaries in Sheffield and Exeter, and have attended additional monthly meetings of the CED Education division.
With the fantastic support of Nina Leigh, and funding from Hertfordshire SACRE, I succeeded in persuading the Board to loan us the excellent JLE exhibition, not just once but twice, and persuaded St Albans Cathedral to host it over three weeks, followed by two weeks in SAMS.
The launch attracted over 50 dignitaries and made a name for SAMS in our local community and beyond. We were overwhelmed by our 30+ enthusiastic volunteers, who talked and walked schoolchildren around the exhibits. Most were SAMS members, yet we had volunteers from the St Albans United shul and another 6 local shuls. The success can be illustrated by numbers – 740 schoolchildren and 80 teachers benefited from the event, and something like 700-1000 members of the public viewed it too at the Cathedral.
I am now actively supporting BoD and others in taking the show to other venues in the UK, including Exeter, Cumbria, Leicester and Sheffield. Maybe next year in St Albans too !
As a regular speaker, and in view of my activity in the Education Division, the name of SAMS St Albans and Masorti are often heard in Board meetings, which has established our reputation as a dynamic and pro-active shul, within an equally dynamic and growing synagogue movement.
With the ability to network as SAMS Bod deputy I have been active in other areas, not directly related to the BoD,
- FACE interfaith and cultural group
- Keynote panellists on recent two BIG SAMS debates on ISIS and Israel, and on Anti-Semitism.
- My part in the Citizens UK Safe Passage project – funds raised by our Masorti movement helped to bring 350 unaccompanied children over from France under the Lord Dubs amendment. Regrettably this project has now been closed by the Government.
To summarise, the Board is as active and dynamic as ever under the Arkush Presidency, and the contribution of SAMS is highly respected. I believe we get our money’s worth from the Board and, in turn, the Board gets considerable value from SAMS.