Simon Phillips, director of interfaith at the Leeds Jewish Representative Council introduces himself as JLife’s newest blogger and explains all about his role….
I oversee all interfaith and intercommunity work. I thought I would share some of the highlights with JLife readers!
I have recently represented the community at a range of discussions and forums including Concord Interfaith Fellowship, Leeds Faiths Forum, Leeds City Council’s Religion and Belief Hub, an academic-led commission on diversity, set up in response to post-Brexit community cohesion issues, and participated in a round table event on Brexit and faith communities. I also convened and led a multi-faith discussion on emergency and resilience planning, linked to wider national work on how faith and other voluntary and community sector communities can, and ought to, respond to events such as flooding, the Grenfell Tower fire and terrorist incidents. The Jewish community is ahead of other faith communities in formulating contingency plans – this is, of course, a reflection of our historical need to have security processes in place.
Linked to this, I have continued to get involved in interfaith work which addresses the more serious issues that faith communities must confront together, such as safeguarding vulnerable children and adults. The Interfaith Network’s publication, Looking After One Another: the Safety and Security of Faith Communities, written in conjunction with the National Police Chief’s Council, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office and the Department of Communities and Local Government, signifies how interfaith work has moved away from the ‘cucumber sandwiches and samosas’ aspect of interfaith.
While I am keen to focus on local issues, I have aimed to align my work with the national portfolio of my counterpart at the Board of Deputies (BoD). Last October, I hosted Anthony Silkoff, interfaith and social action officer, and Marie van der Zyl, vice president, from the BoD, which provided an opportunity to explain what we’re doing in Leeds. The main purpose of the visit was to develop some work with local Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities (an umbrella term for a range of groups) with who the Jewish community have a lot in common. We also had visitors from the Rene Cassin, the Jewish human rights organisation. The two-day visit consisted of a joint talk at UHC Synagogue, visits to Leeds Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (GATE) and a youth club in Harehills that has brought Roma and non-Roma communities together, and a round table discussion at the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Community Centre (MAZCC).
Last year’s Safer Leeds White Ribbon campaign to raise awareness of violence against women and girls has involved faith communities across the city. I sourced a range of quotes from Judaism to sit alongside quotations from other faiths in the city’s campaign activity. I also organised several roadshows at places of worship. The next step is join up with other communities to build on this, as well as to continue raising awareness within the Jewish community.
For more information and to find out about taking part in projects, email firstname.lastname@example.org.