Exactly 260 years ago this week, Deputies were called to order for their very first meeting on November 19, 1760.
In the chair was the man who was to become or first President, Benjamin Mendes da Costa. As he addressed the small assembly of Deputados (the origin of the term deputies), the meeting was recorded in Portuguese in the first minute book of our organisation – a notebook which has been preserved in our archives.
The remit of this first meeting was a narrow one – to pay respects to the recently departed King George II and welcome his successor George III. It’s interesting to note in the aftermath of the latest United States presidential election that this meeting took place a full 16 years before George Washington’s declaration of independence.
Over the years, despite some initial opposition from the hastily formed opposing group, the ‘German Secret Committee for Public Affairs’, the Board of Deputies of British Jews as it became known has sought to protect the interests of Jews in this country.
It has not done so without controversy. In 1917 the prevailing view prior to the Balfour Declaration was that the advent of Zionism was not a welcome development. And in 1935, the Board urged Jews to stay indoors and not to confront Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts on the streets of the East End, although as Deputies will hear at Sunday’s meeting when we are addressed by historian Daniel Tilles, the organisation was at that time infiltrating the far-right with some success.
Now, our remit is to represent the Jewish community in the UK. It’s a tough call as we are a diverse, heterogenous bunch with widely diverging views.
We certainly can’t please all the people all the time. However, over the years we have proved to be the best bet the community has to ensure UK l leaders respect our rights, our freedoms and our faith.
Let’s hope our successors are still doing the same in another 260 years’ time.