PRESIDENT MARIE VAN DER ZYL
This Rosh Hashanah, I would like to focus on two wonderful events which demonstrate the esteem in which the Jewish community is held in this country. The first of these was the coronation of King Charles III in May. I was privileged to be invited to represent the Jewish community at the coronation. The King has said on a number of occasions that he wishes to be the ‘protector of faiths’ and he has been as good as his word. Having experienced King Charles’ warmth towards our community on several occasions, I know he will be a wonderful monarch both for the Jewish community and the wider nation. I wish him much success.
Leading the service on that day was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. We were delighted that he accepted our invitation to be interviewed by historian and novelist Simon Sebag Montefiore at Bevis Marks Synagogue this summer. We invited every Board of Deputies-affiliated synagogue to send representatives to this wonderful event. The Archbishop spoke with great passion of his personal commitment to fighting antisemitism, the duty of care that universities have for their Jewish students and the historic relationship between the Church and the Jewish community. His views were both heartfelt and heart-warming for all who were there.
The Board’s key work is in two areas. Firstly, we engage with politicians, civil society, and other faith groups throughout the UK at national, regional and local level, sharing with them the Jewish community’s views about a wide range of topics including antisemitism, Israel, religious practice and social issues. Secondly, we work proactively to advance causes of great concern to our community. For example, we run Pikuach (The Jewish Ofsted) to inspect our Jewish schools, helping to ensure they provide an excellent Jewish education. We also have our Jewish Living Experience Exhibition, which is travelling around the country educating children and adults about the Jewish way of life, and we are developing a new online digital programme to teach non-Jewish children around the UK about Jews, Judaism, Israel and antisemitism.
There are still threats to the safety of our community. We have previously campaigned successfully to have both Hezbollah and Hamas proscribed in their entirety as terrorist organisations. We strongly believe that the Government has a duty to ban the state-sponsored terror group the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In July we held an event in Parliament which featured impassioned evidence from advocates of proscription.
There is still bias against Israel in the media. One particularly egregious example occurred recently when a BBC News presenter, in an interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, said that “Israeli forces are happy to kill children”. We contacted the BBC’s Director General to protest in the strongest possible terms. On this occasion the BBC apologised swiftly for the unacceptable language, but we must continue to be vigilant and proactive.
This is but a snapshot of the extensive and varied work the Board of Deputies carries out for the Jewish community. We do all this on an extremely modest budget, largely funded by your communal contribution. We are very grateful for your support; please know that whatever your interests or concerns as members of our community, the Board of Deputies is here to advocate on your behalf.
I wish everyone a Shana Tovah and a happy year ahead.
Marie van der Zyl
President, Board of Deputies of British Jews