Anglo Jewry Can’t Manage Its Own House
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The 300,000 Jews in Great Britain have had an organized democratically elected body, the Board of Deputies of British Jewry since it was created in its first incarnation in 1760. The Board today consists of 250 members representing Synagogues and secular institutions which select Members to sit on the Board. (This body is composes of representatives of all of Anglo Jewry except for the Charedim—who number between 11-20% of British Jewry– who have opted not to participate in the Board.) Political authorities and government officials acknowledge the Board as the authoritative voice of Anglo Jewry and it has been recognized as such by Parliament since 1836.
In 2003, because of considerable community pressure, Anglo Jewish leaders created the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), composed of the heads of most of the major Jewish organizations in the country, together with key (self-designated) communal figures and philanthropists, to act as a more representative body on behalf of the interests of the community. It also sought to assert itself as the key leaders and interlocutors for the Jewish community with political leadership.
What was obvious to an outsider was that both of these groups can’t possible act as the voice of Anglo Jewry not only internally, but also not vis-à-vis the outside authorities. Their obvious growing rivalry precipitated a direct attack last week against the leaders of the JLC. Senior Vice President of the Board, Jonathan Arkush, exploded in a broadside accusation against the JLC and its leaders:
The JLC is unelected, it’s unaccountable and it is therefore unacceptable to the community for it to hold itself out as exercising political leadership of our community.
The Chairman of the JLC, Mick Davis, the millionaire head of Xstrata, a leading world-wide mining company, responded by saying the JLC would need to consider if it would be willing to continue to provide funding for the Board.
After extensive meetings and despite having received support from Members of the Board, this week Arkush was forced to explicitly retract his charges. Clearly the monied self-appointed JLC set down an order which could not be refused.
Anglo Jewry has many institutional issues which despite the fact that the community is thriving on some levels it appears stymied in addressing. These include:
1. The Charedi do not recognize or accept the Board of Deputies.
2. The Liberal, Masorti, and Reform movements are not recognized by the Chief Rabbi who serves as the religious head of British Jewry and sits on the JLC.
3. Reportedly, 70% of school age Jewish children attend a Jewish school at least until 11-13 years of age, but the curriculum for these schools is weak and the salaries for Jewish teachers are inadequate.
4. Rabbis and other synagogal functionaries continue to be grossly underpaid making it very difficult for many synagogues to provide robust programming and informal adult education.
5. Advocacy for Jewish interests despite Jews attaining high positions in politics, business, and communal affairs remains unnecessarily timid.
With this as a beginning list it would seem that the management of Anglo Jewry has much on its plate. There is more to do than messaging the egos of monied barons who ought to be driving the community to new heights and not merely feathering than own self-esteem and engaging in petty fights. Diaspora Jewry needs it.