NEWS FROM THE BOARD OF DEPUTIES
Most of us have heard of the Board of Deputies, but perhaps rather fewer will know what it does and its importance to all of us in 2017.
First of all some facts. It was formed in 1759 and has since then been the most important organisation for the promotion of all Jewish causes within UK and Ireland.
There are between 250 and 300 deputies. Each of us represents an organisation, whether it be a shul, a charity or a student union.
In Brighton and Hove we have three deputies – I, Nick Beck, represent Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue, Susan Conway-Benn represents New Church Road, and David Selo is the deputy for the Progressives.
The Board meets in plenary session on 8 or 9 Sundays a year. The work of the board is divided into 5 divisions, being International, Defence, Finance, Constitutional and the one I am on, which is the Communities and Education Division. Each division has 15 members and its chair is one of the Honorary Officers or executive of the Board.
Any Deputy can attend any of the divisional meetings as an observer. There is also a regional council which meets twice a year.
Our president is a lawyer – Jonathan Arkush and because of the significance of the board, Jonathan is invited to meetings with the great and good. In the past year he has met with 2 Prime Ministers, many cabinet ministers, Jeremy Corbyn and Vladmir Putin.
Apart from the honorary officers, the board is fortunate to have as our CEO, Gillian Merron. Gillian was in the last Labour Government till 2010 and MP for Lincoln, so she is very useful, in knowing how to talk to ministers and their offices so that the board achieves the maximum.
If you read the Jewish Chronicle, you will read most weeks of the work of Jonathan and Gillian and their teams.
Our defence division’s most important role is to involve itself when Anti-Semitism occurs. Its team will hear of an incident and then investigate. Recently it has been very instrumental at bringing to the notice of the authorities of UCL, the anti-Semitic bullying of Jewish students and the result has been that appropriate disciplinary action has taken place. They have also been a watchdog for anti-Semitism happening in the Labour party. They also contributed to the group which came out with the Government’s declared paper on what constitutes anti-semitism.
Internationally, the Board is a member of both European and world bodies and there is attendance at most conventions.
The Communities and Educational Division has a very wide remit.
Within Jewish education, there is an organisation Pikuach, which is like a Jewish Ofsted, working to ensure that the schools are up to scratch. This includes making recommendations with regard to the Charedi schools which are outside the mainstream.
The group, working with Clive Lawton, a noted educationalist has produce a resource which is now being used in many schools. This is basically an authoritative text book on Judaism. It is geared for the GCSE Religious Education.
If someone takes RE at GCSE level, the exam is based on the chosen major religion plus one other, to which 25% of the marks are attributed. All the Catholic schools plus many others have chosen Judaism as the 2nd religion, and this resource has won many plaudits.
We have also devised the Jewish Living Experience (JLE). This is an exhibition of 15 information screens plus 5 table tables of artefacts. We take this exhibition to schools, universities and even churches so that non-Jewish groups can visit it and learn what Judaism is about.
The Board of Deputies is cross-communal and so this is reflected in the way Judaism is represented both by the JLE and those who accompany it. The students attending may start at the age of 8 or 9 to university age. It is important that the story can be told in a way which is suitable for all groups.
The Board is also in charge of choosing the Jewish delegate son each SACRE. This is the Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education and each education authority must have one. We are entitled to have a Jewish member on each SACRE,
With regard to communities, the Board tries to help small communities. One way it helps is where a Jewish Community has died out, but there is a Jewish Cemetery, the Board of Deputies take it over and ensure it is maintained.
It also works with the Regional Council to develop relations with the small communities. However lack of manpower and funds mean that progress is very small and slow. This is why in Sussex, I have formed the Sussex Jewish Outreach Group to extend the work of the Board into the inner Sussex diaspora.
I hope this has successfully shown how the work of the board impacts on us all. We really could do with more support of various types or if you have any questions,. contact one of the current Deputies. My telephone number is 01273 728178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org