New BoD chief will put stress on Jewish life outside London

ONE of the first things new Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman wants to do is reach out to and engage more Jewish regions outside of London.

The board's new top man has targeted the perception of the board being "London-centric" as a barrier to progress.

He said: "We certainly want to break down this perception of the board only being for people in London.

"I want officers of the board to visit the other regions more as these regions often feel left out.

"And I am very keen on involving and engaging the community in Manchester - we understand the tight nature of the community and that they have enormous amounts to offer."

Looking back on Vivian's life, it is not difficult to see how he ended up in the position he now occupies.

Born in north-west London, he was "very active" with Bnei Akiva as a youngster, attending all the main camps and eventually becoming a leader himself.

After completing his schooling at the City of London School, he made his first visit to the Jewish state to study at Yavneh yeshiva near Ashdod for almost a year.

He said: "It was my first time in the country and it was quite a difficult experience. I found it hard to adjust.

"But now I've been there about 50 times, most of my very large family lives there and I love visiting and speaking the language.

"There was always a very strong Zionistic tradition in my family and I feel very much a citizen of the world."

After returning to the UK, Vivian studied philosophy and history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, which he said he "very much enjoyed", although he did get his first taste of antisemitism.

"Before I went to university, I didn't think it was possible for intelligent people to be antisemitic," he said.

"I just thought it was something that only thugs indulged in, but there were antisemites around - although not an awful lot.

"I can only really think of one or two incidents, so it was something that I was conscious of. But it wasn't a major issue.

"There was a lot of criticism of Israel, but not as much as nowadays."

He continued: "My outlook has been shaped by the people I have met and the experiences I have had.

"Antisemitism is not the Jewish people's responsibility to fight - it is a stain on the fabric of society.

"I can't see any decent person living in a liberal society not being offended by antisemitism."

However, after completing his time at Cambridge, Vivian was to learn that the subjects he had studied "were interesting, but not practical".

"So I converted to law, training in a City firm until I had qualified as a lawyer," he said.

"I stayed there for two years before moving to a West End firm, where I was made a partner shortly afterwards."

Together with Irving David, he left the West End firm to form David Wineman, specialising in company and commercial law and in aspects of commercial property law.

So respected is he in these circles that he has served on insolvency law committees and on committees dealing with Lloyd's of London, as well as offering comment on legal subjects for the BBC and on other radio programmes.

Taking inspiration from his parents - his mother Devorah (nee Pearlman) was a keen worker for Emunah and his father Joseph for Shaare Zedek - Vivian became more involved with communal life and joined the Board of Deputies as a member in 1990.

"As communal activities started taking up more of my time, I decided to merge the firm with another West End firm and I no longer worked for them full-time," he said.

"At the time, I was involved with the New Israel Fund and was told by members of the Board of Deputies that I should be represented on the board.

"I was elected by my shul and came on board."

Having spent the last three-year session as senior vice-president, Vivian was still surprised to be voted into the top spot in May.

He said: "A lot of people had said I should stand for the presidency and I felt I had a lot to offer.

"But, to be honest, I had no idea how people had voted or what the result would be.

"I come from an Orthodox background with the United Synagogue, but have also worked with Reform rabbis and Masorti, so I felt I had the right community reach to appeal to all different sections of the community."

However, no sooner has he taken his place at the head of the table than Vivian is faced with one of the most complex cases facing British Jewry - that of the Jews' Free School refusing admittance to the child of a Reform convert.

"The JFS case is very sensitive and one we have to be very careful about," he admitted.

"People are rightly concerned, but the board feels that all the different sections of the community handled themselves in a fine manner.

"No section of the community liked the judge's decision in the Court of Appeal that Jews should no longer be allowed to decide who is or isn't Jewish.

"But the board is completely neutral on the JFS case and we represent all strands of Judaism."

Apart from carrying on the work of previous presidents of the board, Vivian has also identified other areas that need work.

In regard to Jews who are against Israel, he said: "There is debate on the board as to whether to respond to these people or not.

"They are very much a fringe group who don't speak for the community.

"I personally think they should be answered and show the community consensus that Israel should be allowed to take reasonable actions to safeguard its citizens.

"There will always be dissenters and they are entitled to say whatever they want, but I feel it's important for people to hear what the board thinks on certain issues."

He added: "Israel is caught in a very difficult situation.

"Operation Cast Lead was seen as a propaganda war by Hamas and they actively wanted to lure Israel's military into civilian areas.

"The board is not the voice of Israel and it is not our job to defend every action taken by the Israeli government, but we are the voice of the community."

He continued: "There is also a demographic challenge, whereby high marrying-out rates and low birth counts are putting communities under threat.

"It is difficult to see communities disappearing in regions where there used to be a vibrant Jewish life, such as Sunderland.

"There is also a danger of polarisation, with some moving more to the left and the charedim moving more to the right."

At the same time as becoming BoD president, Vivian also became chairman of the 25-member Jewish Leadership Council.

© 2009 Jewish Telegraph