THE Manchester Jewish Representative Council does not have to be all things for all people, its new president declared this week.
Russell Conn, who succeeded Sharon Bannister at Sunday’s annual meeting, told the Jewish Telegraph: “I do not think you can be like that in the modern era.
“Many organisations connected to the council do a phenomenal job in their own sphere, so there is no point trying to do what they are doing.”
Instead, he wants the council to continue to carry out six core functions.
“It is best to concentrate on these areas, so we can be the best we can be,” the 68-year-old said. “We see ourselves as a resource for the community.”
He added: “Someone I know, for example, died last Bank Holiday Monday.
“I wanted to know how you registered a Jewish death on a Sunday or Bank Holiday Monday, so I typed it into Google and one of the first websites which came up was the Rep Council’s.
“I clicked on the link and a whole page came up with all the necessary information.
“I already had Misaskim’s number, but it shows that the information is there for anybody who is looking for it, therefore one of the things I am keen to do is to promote how good the council’s website is.
“If someone in the Jewish community has a question, the website should be one of their first port of calls.”
The role of president has evolved, too, since Mrs Bannister first took the reins in 2014.
Mr Conn said: “Now we have a chairman in Jacky Buchsbaum, so the work is spilt in two.”
He only put his name forward for prsident after his wife Vivienne gave her backing.
“There were no other nominations, so I have been appointed by acclamation, I suppose,” the father of three laughed. “I am quite excited and it is an honour.
“When I came home from the meeting on Sunday with my ceremonial chain, my son had a look at it and noticed all the illustrious names of my predecessors, such as Abe Moss, Sir Sidney Hamburger, Lesley Lever and Bella Ansell — they are really top names in the history of the Manchester Jewish community.
“I know people say this, but it will be a humbling experience to represent the Jewish community to the wider world.”
The grandfather-of-two became a council delegate in 2011 after he was appointed a Board of Deputies deputy for Holy Law Synagogue.
He has also served twice on the council’s executive and a year as its treasurer.
An active Freemason and Manchester United supporter, the former Stand Grammar School pupil’s day job is as campaigns director for Israeli charity Eshel Colel Chabad.
Outgoing president Mrs Bannister told delegates that they should accept that some organisations need to merge with others and that some might close for ever.
She said: “It would be irresponsible to have some communal organisations and properties not operating at capacity while others could be finding it difficult to cope with increasing demand.
“I am not saying the process will be easy or comfortable, but we must face that challenge together across the whole of our community — and face it we must.
“We should take control of that decision-making, as that is the right thing to do for the community.
“I hope that you will take back to your organisations the need to look at their strategic thinking; are they at capacity, are they still serving a purpose, are they struggling financially and, most importantly, how they can move forward with the community, rather than their egos, in mind.”
Of her times as president, Mrs Bannister said: “I had no idea on that day in 2014 that I would still be president five years later. There have been highs and lows, but I rarely regret that day that I allowed my name to be put forward for election as a possible future president.
“It is one of the best volunteering roles in Manchester and being president has given me a great deal of aggravation, raised blood pressure and stress, but huge opportunities.
“I hope that my successor is as proud as I have been and will be as committed and rewarded with the same emotional stimulation.
“I hope that I have added value to this council and I pass it on to others to continue the work.
“This is a fantastic community to live in and to be president has been the icing on the cake.”
Council chairman Jacky Buchsbaum paid tribute to Mrs Bannister.
He said: “I have attended all sorts of official events with Sharon and what I noticed is the respect she holds from other organisations’ leaders and from politicians.
“All of them have nothing but admiration for her. When she speaks, people listen.
“One example is when we were at a Jewish Leadership Council meeting with the heads of the national Jewish organisations.
“Sharon stood up and said, ‘Can we stop referring to antisemitism and call it what it really is — anti-Jewish racism or racism against Jews’.
“Since then, that terminology has been adopted by the JLC and the Board of Deputies, and even politicians have started to use it.
“That is an example of Sharon leading not just on behalf of the Manchester Jewish community, but in the wider Jewish community. Her departure is a great loss.”
Referring to an opinion piece in the Jewish Telegraph asking why the community needs the council, Mr Buchsbaum stated: “After the attacks on a mosque in New Zealand, I attended a vigil in Bury.
“There were six Jewish people in the crowd, and five of them were members of our office and executive.
“Had it not been for the Rep Council, there would have been no Jewish presence at the event. The same is true about hundreds of other events we attend each year.
“We do it because it is right and sensible for the Jewish community to be represented within the wider community.
“When people ask what is it that the Rep Council does, the answer is quite simple: we protect the future of this community by making links with the wider community to stop antisemitism before it starts.”
A presentation was made to former chairman Jonny Wineberg, who is leaving the council, while there were tributes to Filis Rosenberg, who is stepping down after more than a decade, and outgoing publicity officer Clive Moss-Barclay.
* Elected: Jacky Buchsbaum, chairman; Russell Conn, president; Jay Charara, PR officer, Jeremy Michelson, education officer, Susan Isaacs, youth and community officer, Graham Gordon, publicity officer, Raymond Solomon, publicity officer and Board of Deputies delegate, Michael Rubinstein, secretary; David Davis and Carl Montlake, PR secretaries; Sandra Stewart and Alex Klein, education secretaries; Hayley Leigh and David Lewis, community secretaries; Deborah Britstone and Joel Levinson, youth secretaries; Karen Solomon and Robert Kanter, antisemitism and human rights secretaries.
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