Thursday, 24 January 2013

20th January 2013 - the first of a new style of Plenary?

Last Sunday, the Board of Deputies met for its first meeting of 2013.  Despite the snow, around 250 people made it into Central London from all around Britain because at this meeting we were due to discuss the controversial Social Action partnership with Oxfam.

I've written in previous blogs and articles about my initial impressions of being a Deputy and earlier this week, I wrote some more about this for the Changing The Board blog.  But the feel of this meeting was different, more contemporary and the 'Oxfam' debate felt really constructive. 

Both Jerry Lewis and I had the opportunity to address the plenary.  We only had two and a half minutes to put over our points of view and I thought that Hampstead Synagogue members might be interested in what I said (slightly adapted as I edited it down on Sunday so as not to repeat others)...

"Oxfam’s income of almost £400m a year puts it in towards the top of UK charity league table.    

One of the reasons that they are so big is that they are very good at what they do. Their aim to save lives by providing aid and protection in disasters, to empower people to work their own way out of poverty, and campaign for lasting change is hard to disagree with. It’s just in relation to Israel that some of us disagree with their stance.  

But they are good at creating an impact and their campaigning is exceptional. The Grow campaign is one example of this. 

Our proposed partnership project Grow Tatzmiach will train 25 Jewish volunteers in how to be ‘food heroes’.  They’ll learn from ‘the masters of the art’ and then go on to establish food justice social action projects in UK communities or internationally.  They could work with local partners or with Jewish charities and they’ll be mentored for six months to make sure that they’re achieving the greatest possible impact.  That’s a great opportunity and the Board of Deputies was invited to partner with Oxfam because of our status in the community.

This project directly supports the Boards’ goal to “Promote a better understanding of the Jewish Community in the UK and develop relations with other groups”.  The social action that results will absolutely promote a better understanding of our community and build relations between Jews and non-Jews.

But I believe, because we’re working with Oxfam on this, we may also have the chance to achieve more. Yesterday at Shul, we were privileged to have Daniel Taub, the Israeli Ambassador address us and answer some of our questions.  In response to a question about engagement with NGOs, he talked abut their rising importance and how even when we don’t agree, there was a need to find some common ground in order to create a platform for further dialogue.  The Grow Tatzmiach project provides such an opportunity.  We can work with Oxfam on an area of common interest, get to know them and hopefully build mutual trust, respect and understanding.  And that has to be a good thing so that when we want to engage on other, more challenging issues, we can build on these foundations.   

In my day job, I work in international development and specifically in promoting and building cross sector partnerships.  Partnerships work if they have three things: respect, trust and mutual benefit.  We can ensure these are part of GROW Tatzmiach.  But if things don’t work out, the safeguards built into the project and articulated in the motion protect us and mean we can discontinue it"...

As many of you will already know, the Board voted to support the project and so our volunteers will be trained in early February. The timing is great.  Just yesterday, a new campaign, supported by over 100 UK charities including  Oxfam, Tzedek and World Jewish Relief launched the IF campaign... working for 'Enough Food for Everyone'.

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