LJRC President reports on the recent JDC ‘Top Leaders’ seminar in Berlin

Following on from the Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) recent community resilience report regarding our community I had the pleasure of attending a two-day seminar event in Berlin.

Funded by the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), I was joined by Jewish leaders from similarly sized European communities in Berlin, Milan, Athens, Geneva, Budapest, Bucharest, Sophia, Barcelona, Belgrade, and Paris.

Led by accomplished speakers and experts, it focussed on many of the issues facing today’s Jewish leaders. Not only did I learn more about community resilience, the event also provided an excellent opportunity to work together, exchange experiences and develop a vision for the future of our respective communities.

Despite bearing some similarities, I was struck by just how differently the other communities operate to ours. For example, many have a central community fund which covers things such as salaries and community initiatives; something which is better suited to smaller communities with only one or two buildings.

Interestingly the financial support the continental communities receive from the state also differs. Geneva, for example, receives no funding whatsoever from the state. Shechita and the wearing of religious items is banned and they pay for their own school and security. The Milan community subsidises its own school fees, whilst Sofia and Athens receive funding from a philanthropic organisation.

My visit has since yielded a number of positive outcomes aimed at strengthening our community:

–        Arrangements are being made for a visit to Leeds from the President of the International Jewish Scouting Movement, with a view to developing leadership, particularly amongst older Scouts.

–        Similar discussions are also taking place with the director of the Swiss Jewish community who has specific responsibility for young adult engagement. Along with counterparts in Austria and Germany, they wish to include Leeds in its leadership training and activity weekends.

–        A philanthropic organisation will soon be visiting our school to asses possible support funding.

–        Schools in Athens, Sofia, and Milan have asked to establish links with our school so that children can engage with one other via joint cultural projects. Given the Bulgarian community is Sephardi and the Milan and Athens communities are mixed it would be interesting to note the similarities and differences between, what are no doubt, diverse communities. As well as fostering links this project would be mutually beneficial for all, with children from other communities able to practice their skills in English via skype and social media and ours experiencing a wider Jewish world.

–        Presidents of the various representative councils also discussed the possibility of exchange visits across all ages, with Milan, Sofia, Athens, and Geneva particularly keen to visit Leeds.

Laurence Saffer

President Leeds Jewish Representative Council