As part of the day job, I often find myself at what are billed as high-powered business breakfasts in aid of charity. Among recent guests have been Chancellor Philip Hammond, chairman of HSBC Mark Tucker and WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell (currently in a spot of boardroom trouble).
What is striking about these events is the amount of Jewish talent in the room.
Brilliant entrepreneurs, tech executives, young lawyers including several QCs, communications bosses, as well as private equity and property tycoons.
As a member of the Board of Deputies, the question that always comes to mind is the gap in current achievement between the participants at business breakfasts and my fellow deputies.
The Board has done great work in bringing in young people from universities and youth organisations to balance an overwhelming older cohort (that includes myself). But it is has been much less successful in attracting to its core the talented middle – women and men in thier 30s, 40s and 50s, who have achieved much beyond their years and have a great deal to give to the community in skills, talent, intelligence and political understanding.
As a failed candidate for Board president three years ago, I was asked by one of this year’s prospective leaders what mistakes had been made and what was wrong with the organisation.
The first part was easy. I hadn’t done enough retail campaigning, which meant phone calls to the near 300 on the Board’s phone list. My combativeness in debate got the better of me.
Finally, I was never able to fully convince people that one could continue as senior executive, writing a daily column on a national newspaper, and be president of the Board. The paradox is that precisely the reasons that made sense of the candidacy, knowledge and access to political and economic movers and shakers, was the same as that which weakened the case.
The candidate, a good listener, also seemed receptive when it was pointed out that despite a huge pool of talent in British Jewry, the electorate of deputies was failing to throw up the quality and subtlety of leadership the community needs. Where was the talented middle that could reinvigorate and make more relevant Board leadership?
For a moment in recent history, it looked as if the leadership of the community was getting it right. The joint initiative by the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board to put Jeremy Corbyn on the spot over his failure to properly investigate and discipline anti-Semitism in the Labour Party was well timed and dignified. There was a sober demonstration at Westminster and letter to the Labour leader seeking a proper meeting. It produced the kind of sensible media coverage that spoke volumes for British values of tolerance.
Then came the Jewdas seder. The attendance by Jeremy Corbyn with beetroot was a deliberate provocation. The tone of much of what went on at the Seder was lurid. But the demonisation of Jewdas and the suggestion that a Jewish event could in some way be anti-Semitic looked tone death.
Sure, Jewdas may not be everyone’s glass of wine. But it is a social organisation attractive to many young Jews with progressive leanings. Indeed, I personally know one delightful and thoughtful Jewish couple, members of a United Synagogue community, who met at one of the socials.
British-Jewry is a broad church. As a vice-president of the Board, one was only too glad when we welcomed Yachad as members after a lively debate and close vote.
The Board’s next leadership team needs to be much more embracing. Much less willing to condemn, more willing to know there is a time to be noisy and a time for silence. We need leaders who understand that better.