Amanda Ruback – 3 years as Board of Deputies Representative
Amanda Bowman/Ruback gave a fascinating pre kiddush talk on 25th April 2014 about the Board of Deputies and her three years as a Hampstead Synagogue representative.
Here is a summary of her presentation.
About the Board of Deputies
The Board of Deputies has been the voice of British Jewry and the representative of Jewish communal interests to government, media and others for over 250 years. It was established under George III, and remains to this day the only democratically elected voice of British Jewry, with Deputies (or Representatives) directly elected by synagogues and organisations from every part of our diverse community. It is this ability to unite the community behind a single message and voice that gives the Board not only its legitimacy, but its ability to influence and shape events.
The Board comprises nearly 300 deputies directly elected by around 138 synagogues and 34 communal organisations, from youth movements, to social welfare charities and regional councils.
In addition, there are also a further 33 under-35 observers, appointed by synagogues and organisations to supplement their representation and to ensure that a new generation of communally minded activists can contribute to our work on behalf of the community.
Each synagogue and institution elects one or more Deputy, depending on the size of that particular body, with elections occurring every three years.
Deputies are both the representatives of their constituencies at the Board and the Board’s representatives in their constituencies. We have the opportunity to engage with issues that affect the whole community on a national stage and also to ensure that any individual person or our community’s concerns are properly understood and addressed.
Deputies can stand for Divisions (or Committees) that keep a watching brief on areas that that Board works on: International, Defence and Group Relations, Community Issues and Finance and Organisation. But even if you’re not elected on to the Division, you can attend meetings and get involved in its work. In addition, there are a number of working groups that you can get involved with. That was how I got myself involved; through a lobby group: Changing the Board; through BODSA (Board of Deputies Social Action) and through the Womens’ Group.
Deputies elect five Honorary Officers who comprise a President, Senior Vice President, two Vice Presidents and Treasurer.
The Honorary Officers are responsible for the running of the Board through its Divisions and are accountable to the Deputies at regular plenary meetings.
The Board meets eight times a year in full session, to debate matters of current concern and to consider the activity reports from its various Divisions. One of these meetings takes place in a regional community.
In addition, the Regional Deputies Assembly plays a vital role in bringing together all the Deputies from communities outside London to discuss matters of shared concern and to elects a Regional Council.
What the Board does
On a day-to-day basis our lay leaders and professional staff:
- Produce policy papers, develop campaigns, host debates and meetings – on a range of issues of interest to our community in order to raise awareness and change opinion and behaviour
- And to support that they Lobby politicians, policy makers and opinion formers directly and indirectly;
- Empower committed members of the community to engage directly with the political process, through the media and grassroots campaigns;
- And Initiate and participate in partnerships and coalitions within and outside the community to realise our goals.
Represent – we help public bodies including the national government to understand Jewish communal interests
The Board of Deputies helps public bodies, including Government, to understand Jewish communal interests, represents our interests to them and supports the representative work of other communal organisations. It does this by lobbying Ministers, Government and MPs, speaking with civil servants and responding effectively to Government. And it provides the first-port-of-call for media and other organisations seeking to understand Jewish communal interests and concerns, set out in a variety of policy documents and statements, e.g European Manifesto, Holocaust Consultation submission, General Election 10 Commitments
Defend: Extremism is one of the community’s foremost concerns. The Board robustly and vocally challenges all forms of antisemitism, racism and bigotry.
We work with our partners, such as the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and the Community Security Trust (CST), to respond to all forms of defamation or inflammatory discourse aimed at the Jewish community, whether manifested on campus, in the media, public institutions, politics or anywhere else in wider society.
Safeguarding Jewish Life
The freedoms enjoyed by the Jewish community today can be seen in the number of communal institutions, schools, places of worship and facilities available to young and old.
Many operate as charities, and the Board monitors and responds to policy and legislative changes to ensure that there is a political and legal framework that is conducive to their ability to provide services freely and efficiently to our community.
The Board ensures that mainstream medical practice is not in conflict with Jewish ethics in such areas as organ donation, or screening for genetic diseases. The Board has recently established Milah UK to help protect the practice of circumcision in accordance with Jewish law and custom.
The Board plays a central role in the on-going co-ordinated community campaign, Shechita UK.
Jewish Rights in the Workplace
As well as assisting our communal institutions and defending Jewish practices, we also help individuals facing problems at work or their places of study due to their religious observance.
When issues arise, we advise people of their rights and take appropriate steps to represent their views to employers, schools and colleges, exam boards and professional organisations, such as when, for example, work or exams coincide with the Sabbath or other Jewish Holy Days.
Championing Jewish schools
Whilst the Board does not run any schools itself, it works closely with all Jewish schools, with Jewish communal organisations such as the Partnership for Jewish Schools and with colleagues from other faith communities (such as the Church of England Board of Education and the Catholic Education Service) to ensure that the needs of schools of a religious character are met and maintained in legislation.
Pikuach – the Jewish OFSTED
Over 20 years ago, the Board pioneered the Pikuach inspection service – the statutory equivalent of OFSTED for Jewish religious education, to inspect and monitor our schools to ensure that the highest possible standards are maintained.
Ensuring the accuracy of educational materials
It is in our interest that teaching materials used in schools to educate about Judaism and Israel are interesting, accurate and appropriate.
We work closely with educational publishers to review materials before they go to print in order to check for errors or misrepresentations.
The Board of Deputies plays a key role in helping the wider community to gain a better understanding of Jews and Judaism. We do this in a number of ways including through direct outreach to non-Jewish children and adults and interfaith relations with other faith organisations
Jewish Living Exhibition
The Jewish Living Experience Exhibition – which teaches the basics of festivals, Shabbat, Kashrut and Bar/Bat Mitzvah – is seen by thousands of people every year in schools, colleges, public buildings and synagogues.
It comprises a dozen stands with simple information and role-playing items, including a mocked up Shabbat table, dressing up items, examples of kosher foods and engaging puzzles. The exhibition travels around Britain, from Cornwall to Carlisle, and is designed to give a positive impression of Judaism.
Jewish Living Tours
Jewish Living Tours give thousands of pupils a year a fun way of learning about Judaism. For example, in the past year over 200 pupils from Crofton School near Fareham in Hampshire had a two day visit to a synagogue, a high street in a Jewish area, a military museum and heard two particularly excellent Holocaust survivors.
Jewish Connection exists to establish viable and productive links between outlying Jewish communities within the UK, providing a means of representation for the 50,000 Jews who live outside of the main centres of Judaism.
Women in leadership
Women in Jewish Leadership (WJL), is a project of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
WJL was set up to implement the recommendations of 2012’s report of the Jewish Leadership Council’s Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership, Inspiring Women Leaders: Advancing Gender Equality in Jewish Communal Life.
Sadly, in a number of parts of the UK, where vibrant regional Jewish communities once thrived, only the cemeteries remain, many at risk of ruin, disrepair and even vandalism. Today, it oversees 80 disused cemeteries across the country, ensuring their proper maintenance.
Speak Out For Israel
The BoD works closely with the Community’s Israel advocacy organisations to make the case for Israel, explaining the challenges it faces to politicians, policy makers and key influences, and speaking out against campaigns such as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions)
The Board is recognised as the Jewish community leader on initiatives that promote good relations between the UK’s different faith and ethnic communities.
We seek to develop strong partnerships and dialogue on a range of issues of mutual interest, including education, equality and fighting extremism.
What makes it different/special?
Because, for all it’s challenges; it is the only democratically elected voice of British Jewry.
There are bigger organisations out there. Our income each year is just over £1m – Jewish Care for example has an annual income of over £50m. But we punch above our weight. And because it draws from right across the community, it’s a fascinating place to be involved with.
What’s the last three years been like?
So my first introduction to the Board was on the day of the Vice Presidential elections. I wasn’t able to vote as it’s the outgoing crop of deputies that vote; but I could observe. So I turned up to the BMA grand hall in Tavistock Square and walked into a room with about 300 odd people in it and recognised probably two or three. I sat quiet as a mouse trying not to catch any eye.
To say I was shocked was an understatement. OK so it was a hustings event, but even so, the level of vitriole, the spitefulness and bitter tones of the questioning was astonishing to me. I seriously wondered if this was the right environment for me and whether there was even a small chance that I’d be able to engage fully or cope with it. And so I wrote about it in a blog afterwards and decided that I’d try and use the blog to share my thoughts on being a deputy and as a way of keeping you here at Hampstead up to date with what’s going on at the Board. Not an overwhelming success on either part, but I do try to post when something specifically comes up that I think will be of interest to members and when there isn’t a better communications channel for it.
And I kept going to meetings. I found a few like minded souls and did what was suggested to me in that a bit like a fresher at university; I signed up for working groups and special interest groups (like the Womens’ Group and Changing the Board and BODSA. And I stood for election for a Division. Jerry (Lewis) had warned me that I wouldn’t be successful and he was right, but at least I had a go.
And I went to a BODSA meeting. It was a bit of a shambles really. Lots of well meaning people, doing some quite interesting stuff; but generally, the work had no link to the overall goals of the Board or to the Social Action officer’s work. So I joined the management group and when the chair wanted to step down, I put myself forward to jointly chair it.
And I joined the committee of the Women’s Group – where we organise annual forums; hold sessions at regional meetings, established a mentoring scheme for new women deputies and last month hosted a joint meeting with BODSA on Poverty and Diversity at the House of Commons.
As Co-chair of BODSA I now attend Community Division meetings. And through the Women’s Group and BODSA we’ve answered consultations on many of the initiatives that the Board works on – the European and British Election manifestos; the organisation review; closer collaboration with the JLC. So I’ve been able to get very ‘stuck in’ to what’s going on and in my own small way helped to influence things. And I’ve learnt a huge amount, not least about how the Board works and how to work it.
And time flies. It’s almost time for the elections for next triennium. And this time we’ll be voting for a new President. There are four candidates: 3 of the current VPs – the Senior VP Laura Marks, Johnny Arkush and Alex Brummer and another guy – a Deputy from the Federation movement, Richard Cohen. If he doesn’t get enough nominations – they need 20 each, there will be three to choose from. If you have a strong view about who you believe would be the best candidate, please do come and talk to me about it. I’m open to all views.