By Simon Round
The idea of the Board of Deputies as a kind of youth academy for young Jewish talent is a novel one, as recently elected Treasurer Ben Crowne happily acknowledges. However, he is living proof that the institution, which turned 261 last month, is developing a reputation for offering multiple opportunities to an increasingly diverse demographic.
Ben, who is in his 30s, believes he is the youngest Treasurer in the Board’s history, although he happily concedes the bar was previously set fairly low. He says: “I had a lovely email from Jeffrey Pinnick who was Treasurer in the 1980s. He told me that he was at the time the Board’s youngest ever Treasurer and he was in his 50s then, so I am by some way the youngest that we know about. Of course, we can’t rule out the possibility that Moses Montefiore had a young nephew who did some accounting back in the 19th century at some point.”
Although Ben is unfeasibly youthful for a Treasurer, he is not the youngest Honorary Officer elected in May – that honour goes to Vice President David Mendoza-Wolfson. And one only has to go back to 2018 to find a very junior Senior Vice President in Richard Verber – also in his 30s.
Ben feels that the Board of Deputies has become one of the most inclusive institutions in the community. However, it was Limmud which gave him his first experience of communal involvement.
He attended City of London School where he excelled at maths but he went on to read history at Cambridge University because, he says, “maths at university is very hard and very abstract”. That did not deter him from a career in forensic accounting. Having graduated he was looking for a way to become more involved communally and Limmud was offering great opportunities. “I helped to organise some Limmud events for a couple of years and then I ended up chairing Limmud Conference [as it was then called] in 2016. It was my first major voluntary involvement. There aren’t many places in the community where a young person in the community can get involved and do something meaningful and consequential. Limmud had this idea that you could go to 20 people in their 20s and 30s, say, ‘ok it’s all yours. Here’s £1 million, go and make it happen’.
After he had chaired Limmud he was looking for a way to remain involved. Limmud, at the time, were looking for a representative on the Board of Deputies, so Ben became a Deputy. He joined the Finance and Organisation Division because he felt it was a natural place for him given his skills and interests. He also volunteered for the Constitutional Working Group and ended up leading the project to produce a brand-new constitution for the Board.
All of this commitment takes time and effort but Ben feels he benefited from the process. “A lot of Deputies do a lot of things – being a Deputy is just one of their roles. That’s what makes the organisation work – we have all these informal connections as well as the formal ones.”
The culmination of his involvement was his decision to stand for the role of Treasurer in May’s election. “Being Treasurer is the best job. Everyone wants your attention; everyone wants something from you. The Board has a small budget and a relatively large brief and there’s a lot to do in terms of keeping the show on the road and keeping the cash flowing – having enough to do what we need to do. So we’re being sensible but we’re not turning down good things. Stuart MacDonald was a great Treasurer and ran the committee very well, and I wanted to keep things going.”
He wants the Board to carry on reaching out to parts of the community which haven’t always felt represented by the organisation. “There’s a need to refresh, there’s still work to do in making the Board relevant to parts of the community which don’t feel represented or are under-represented. That means getting the message to people who aren’t shul members, to some of the regions, the Charedi sector. Each of those is different but all are essential if you want to be a representative body.”
He adds: “It’s interesting that just by saying we’d like more organisations to join the Board and having the professional team make more calls we’ve attracted lots of new interest. That’s the lowest of low hanging fruits. We need to think about mechanisms for involving even more people like the French community, the Israeli community and others.
“We’re doing lots of stuff now with under-35 observers and there are more young Deputies coming in, Like Limmud, the Board is another of those communal spaces where younger people can come and do something meaningful, which is one reason why we have such an influx.”
Of course, there is another reason why Ben and many other young people have decided to join up. “The community only runs and only exists if people are prepared to put time in. When you gain from a communal organisation you feel an obligation to put something back. We give the time because we care about the Board.”