President’s Rosh Hashanah message 5775 – a tale of two elections
Coming out of a most turbulent summer, our thoughts are with Israel and we hope and pray that the ceasefire with Hamas is a lasting one. Our wide ranging responses during Operation Protective Edge included supporting 25 Israel grassroots organisations from across the UK with strategic and hands on support (including at over a dozen rallies), effectively countering local council politicisation of the conflict, overturning cultural boycotts, being in regular contact with political parties and the Foreign Office, and engaging in multi- platform media responses, including on the BBC, commercial radio and in national, Israeli and local press.
Sadly, as well as increased demonisation of Israel in civic society, anti-Semitism is rising and we have been lobbying the Home Secretary on the matter: Government gets our community’s concerns, but we need to also work with other communities, so that they too fully understand them. Just like we have worked so hard as a community to cultivate support from all sectors of society in favour of Israel, so we need to get others to speak out against anti-Semitism in all its forms.
This is my final Rosh Hashanah address, as my term as President comes to a mandatory end in May next year. Being President has given me many pleasing moments and enormous pride. I am delighted that the Board has made so much progress so that we now have a first rate team led by a first rate CEO, Gillian Merron, and soon hopefully will be housed in first rate up to date premises. Our discussions with the JLC for a unified organisation of the community continue but, whether on its own or as a part of a wider organisation, the Board has a bright future.
None of what we achieve would be possible without our dedicated staff whose drive and energy are an inspiration. To our dedicated Deputies from across the UK – I thank you for your hard work: you represent your constituencies and are vital to the functioning of UK Jewry. Needless to say, the Board exists on money from individuals in the community – half of which comes from the Communal Levy: still, less than half of synagogue members pay the relatively small sum of £25 a year to support our work. I think that the message here will support the fact that we are deserving of that contribution. I am pleased ot report that over the last year the amount raised through the levy has risen by more than 15% representing increased communal appreciation of our work
We are helping to counter BDS, witnessed by our tireless work during Operation Protective Edge, and ongoing successes, including working closely with the Methodist Church leadership which led to a moratorium around BDS activity; Unfortunately there is no question but that the tide of BDS is rising and we are going to face many more fierce battles ahead which we must fight together.
We are protecting Jewish education through our lobbying ministers, such as the right to teach Ivrit as a first language;
We are promoting Judaism through our revamped Jewish Living Experience exhibitions and Tours, in which thousands of non- Jewish children learn about our faith every year;
We are reaching the edges of the community through Jewish Connection, which is supporting small communities all over the UK who need pastoral, social care, networking and advocacy support from the mainstream of the community;
We consulted the community and then worked with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to produce new guidelines that clearly define the right to religious practice both at work and in education institutions;
Finally our APPG on British Jews has already drawn wide support from politicians and has helped us hone the community’s lobbying on core rights issues, namely: social care, restitution of property for Survivors, protecting Shechitah, the right and value to a religious education by showcasing our excellent schools, lobbying on child benefit credits and many other issues affecting the entire spectrum of the community.
You will shortly become aware of a General Election Jewish Manifesto produced by the Board, which encapsulates all the interests, concerns and aspirations of the UK’s 300,000 Jewish community.
The Board will send this manifesto, which follows on from this year’s successful European Elections Jewish Manifesto, to Jewish communities, policy makers, and election candidates – in order that the Jewish community has one clear policy document around the 2015 elections. The idea is that as individuals and local Jewish communities you take the Manifesto to candidates and use it as the centre piece of lobbying efforts – be it at hustings, in letters or in public debates.
We recognise the diversity of the community and range of interests which is why we consulted throughout the community – reaching three hundred individuals and organisations. The Manifesto is divided into 14 sections including Religious Freedom and Observance, Israel and the Middle East, Education, and Health and Social Care. There are also a list of ‘Ten Commitments’ which encapsulate in a breath the key aims of the document.
The Board’s ‘Parliament’ dissolves in May 2015, and there will be elections not only for a new President, Vice Presidents and Treasurer but for nearly 300 Deputies on the Board. We have done much good work to improve our representation in the past few years, including with our Women in Jewish Leadership project to ensure female talent is allowed to flourish, the setting up of a Youth Forum, to improve contact with younger community members, and through working with Change in the Board: the result has been a marked improvement in our representation – but we must go much further.
5774 has been a significant year of achievement for the Board. Let’s hope that 5775 will be a year of peace for Israel and the Middle East and a successful one for the community.