You must be a masochist to want to lead our community

 Do you know any out of work masochists? Someone who doesn’t mind being clobbered whatever they do? Only there is apparently a vacancy for a suitable candidate with that qualification. It doesn’t pay very well but it is definitely regular work. The portfolio, of course, is the leadership of the UK Jewish community.

Everyone has a clear idea what should be in the job specification; the only problem is that they all differ. Are we looking for strong leaders who brook no nonsense, or great team players who weld all the divergent views into one programme? Should they have mellifluous voices or deep pockets? Are they good at delegating? All I guarantee is that, within 100 years, it‘s likely no one will remember their names.

Who were Sir Robert Waley Cohen, Neville Laski, Sir David Salomons or Julian Goldsmid? You can beat your brains out for the community and then be relegated to history books. I sympathise, but most don’t.

As soon as something goes wrong, there is a demand for better leadership. Those who don’t turn up to democratically-called meetings often complain of the decisions taken in their absence. Or if their view isn’t accepted by the majority of the organisation’s committee, they write to the press to complain of the stupidity of the people who didn’t see things their way.

In fact, it is amazing that so many eminent members of the community are kind and generous enough to give of their time and money to support worthy causes.

Many of them are unaccustomed to adverse comments from those with whom they work. Once, when a new chairman was appointed to a massive organisation, I asked him what it was like. “Ever since I was appointed,” he said, “all I hear is the echo of my own voice.”

The majority of them should also stay well away from the history of the community since Oliver Cromwell and Charles II. They only have to try to draw comparisons with those far-off days and most of them are up to their necks in historical inaccuracies. There’s only been one pogrom in those 350 years; name the town and the year? Well done; Tredegar. 1911.

So are our leaders doing such a terrible job? That’s certainly the impression you’ll get if you read the complaints. In their defence, we seem to be solvent, integrated but not assimilated, as safe as houses, defended by Race Relations and Public Order Acts, members of golf clubs and accepted in hotels and restaurants.

We are well represented in parliament, with an unprecedented number of our children in our own schools, shechita guaranteed, and Prince Charles has his own yarmulke with his Three Feathers insignia proudly displayed on it.

Believe me, that’s a vast improvement on my younger days.

What’s all the fuss about, then? Do we expect our leaders to wave magic wands to ensure that everybody loves us? And this to be achieved when our political leaders can only muster a small majority of Scots who don’t want to get shot of the rest of the country! So what would the majority of the community still go to the barricades to defend? I can only think of one thing that is fundamental to a majority of the community; the right of the rabbis, and specifically the Chief Rabbi, to have the final word on all things relating to the faith.

Come on, you remember; Judaism is a religion, not a charitable, educational or social organisation.

The Chief Rabbi’s final authority is enshrined in the constitutions of the Board of Deputies and the United Synagogue and it’s a bit like the monarchy; don’t mess with it.

The office of the Chief Rabbi is far more popular with the community than any group of lay men.

Wisely, it has been the custom for them not to get involved in non-religious matters, except to encourage and support. They honour the congregations with their presence, who speak for us nationally and – in the case of Lord Sacks – became the moral voice of the country.

Give Rabbi Mirvis time. The majority of the community just wants a peaceful life.

If the leaders don’t frighten the horses, it’s no bad thing if they get on with leading.

As a result, the vast majority of us can continue to concentrate on what’s really important; understanding the newest IT. I’m a great believer in the old American saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book
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