Address to EDRS by Laurence Brass, Treasurer of Board of Deputies
March 23, 2013
Shabbat shalom. Thanks to Rabbi Smith for offering me the hospitality of his pulpit and allowing me to address you this morning. How fitting that I should be speaking on Shabbat Hagodol (The great Sabbath) to Kehilla Hagodol (The great community) as I understand that this Shul has the largest membership of any Reform Shul in the whole of Europe.
I hesitate to begin my remarks on Shabbat by paraphrasing a quotation which originated in the New Testament but the maxim that “a prophet is only without honour in his own house” is particularly apt for the Board of Deputies. It fittingly matches the way the Board is, I fear, perceived by our own co-religionists notwithstanding the high regard in which it is held by the wider community.
For 253 years the Board of Deputies has been the representative body of the UK Jewish community. It was in 1760 that a delegation from the Spanish and Portuguese congregation went to see King George iii and asked him if they could be the representatives or, using the Portuguese word, deputados, of the Jewish community. The King’s ancestor [Ed: descendent?] Prince Charles attended our dinner the year before last and praised our work but expressed surprise that our own community aren’t always aware of what we do
So the HO’s of the Board travel all over the country to spread the message about what we do and that’s why I’m so pleased to be able to tell one of the most important congregations in the UK about the Board
I always like to emphasise two important elements at the outset. First, the democratic nature of our organisation. Every Deputy is elected. You in this Shul have been wise enough to elect three outstanding Deputies in Sheila Levitt, Steven Curtis and Melvyn Abrahams and I’m pleased this morning to pay a public tribute to each one of them for the sterling work they do at the Board. Like me they’ll be around at the end of the service to answer any of your questions
And the second feature I like to highlight is that we are genuinely cross communal and represent all strands of Judaism from left to right.
But what exactly, I hear you ask, does the Board actually do? Well, I can best illustrate our work by taking you through the Jewish lifecycle and showing you how the Board relates to every aspect of Jewish life.
NEW BORN BABY. The Board is in the vanguard of the fight to preserve Brit Millah which is increasingly under threat. Last year the Board co-ordinated the evidence at the Coroners enquiry when there was an unfortunate death of a Jewish baby during circumcision and persuaded the Coroner that the tragic death was by natural causes
SCHOOLDAYS The Board ensures that during schooldays there are no clashes with exams on Shavuot or Shabbat and we work with Examining Boards to that end. In addition, we promote our Jewish way of Life Exhibition which tours non-Jewish schools and explains to pupils all about Judaism.
UNIVERSITY. The Board works closely with UJS to help combat Anti Zionism. We recognise that our students are on the front line and we works alongside them. Last year the Board intervened when Manchester University students tried to prevent the Deputy Israeli Ambassador from speaking and by our negotiations with the Vice Chancellor we resolved the matter.
MARRIED LIFE. The Board is obliged under the Marriage Act to provide Shuls with Secretaries of Marriages. In addition we help to fight for Kosher food for families to enjoy by opposing plans to ban shechita. We have been active in the European Parliament in Brussels lobbying against labelling proposals which could result in the end of shechita if they aren’t opposed.
AFTER DEATH. Even after death the Board looks after you. We have had the title transferred to our ownership of Jewish cemeteries in areas where Jews no longer reside like the Cemeteries in Bath, Penzance and Ipswich. Only this week we arranged for burials of Jewish remains in Norwich.
INTERNATIONAL WORK. Following the inspiration of a great former President, Sir Moses Montefiore, the Board observes the maxim that “Kol Yisrael arevim ze la ze” (all Jews are responsible for one another). We don’t hesitate to intervene if a Jewish community in another country is under threat. Two years ago we held a diplomatic reception in London at which no fewer than 41 foreign Ambassadors attended; demonstrating the importance of the Board’s influence across the globe.
ISRAEL. Israel advocacy will always be a key part of our function. With the increased campaign to delegitimize Israel and boycott its goods we promote Israeli products with our campaigns. Last month the HO’s visited Jerusalem and, despite his busy schedule, President Peres spent two hours discussing matters of mutual concern with our delegation.
COMBATTING ANTI-SEMITISM: The first port of call for Government and media when there is a situation like last week when Lord Ahmed made his outrageous comments is the Board. Similarly, it was the Board that co-ordinated the protest to the Sunday Times after the publication of the Gerald Scarfe cartoon a few weeks ago. The Board are behind the “Hope Not Hate” campaign which confronts the BNP and other extremists. In 2010 The Board’s effective campaigning in Barking was deemed to be partly responsible for the elimination of all twelve BNP seats at the Borough Elections in Barking. Today there are no BNP Councillors there at all.
The Board works closely with all faiths. Our interfaith officer is shortly taking a group of Christian clergy to Israel. We work closely with the Moslems and Hindus and promote harmony.
LOBBY GOVERNMENT MINISTERS
The Board regularly visits 10 Downing Street and approaches Government departments on matters of concern to our community. When the Board speaks, they are listened to with respect.
We employ a staff of eighteen people in London and we are funded by the Communal Levy, a modest £25.00 charge which I hope you’ll ensure that you pay when the Shul bill arrives
WITH YOUR SUPPORT WE WILL CONTINUE TO PROTECT AND DEFEND THE COMMUNITY AND OUR WAY OF LIFE FOR THE NEXT 250 YEARS AS EFFECTIVELY AS WE HAVE DONE FOR THE PAST TWO AND HALF CENTURIES.