MIZRACHI president Danny Lamm has promised to take action in the wake of a damning report which raises concerns over a “boys’ club culture”, “a culture of bullying”, and dissatisfaction with how the organisation is run.
The report, released by forum facilitators late last week, gave feedback on governance and transparency issues, rabbinic leadership and female and youth participation.
In a letter to members last Friday, Lamm wrote, “We had 75 individuals take part in the sessions across our membership of over 1000,” adding, “opinions or recommendations … do not reflect those of the leadership or membership but rather that of the participants or facilitators”.
Reflecting on the numbers involved, he told The AJN on Monday only around five per cent of the membership voiced negative feelings, adding that a number of the sentiments expressed in the report “appear as facts that are simply not true”.
However, in a subsequent conversation, he conceded that only 400 Mizrachi members were eligible to participate, meaning the concerns reported were discussed by almost a fifth of eligible members.
Following the controversial loss of the only woman on the executive late last year, one of the central issues broached in the report was female involvement, with a “substantial number of women” expressing “a sense of disenfranchisement from the organisation and an endemic lack of trust in its leadership”.
Participants were also concerned a growing number of women no longer regularly attended Mizrachi or were moving to another shule. Lamm rejected the claim, telling The AJN, “We’re not seeing departure.”
Others described Mizrachi as having a “boys’ club” culture, which some found intimidating, while others cited a culture of “bullying”.
Lamm denied such a culture existed, stressing, “The majority of the feedback that I’ve had does not support that argument.”
When asked if Mizrachi would see more women on the executive, he added, “We know that there will be women that come on the executive. There are women taking roles that will be executive roles.”
Lamm suggested one of the reasons women don’t put their hands up is a concern that being on the executive may take up an extensive amount of time.
His assertion was backed by committee member and events manager Belinda Fisher. “I think that this is an issue for women globally. It’s not a Mizrachi-specific issue,” she told The AJN, adding, “I don’t think gender is the determining factor.”
She noted that “Ora-Tali Korbl was president of Ohr David shule in Mizrachi, Abi Cooper was president of Beit Haroeh-Mizrachi, as well as Bev Lichtig.”
However, the report stated that “a number of female participants expressed a reluctance/lack of confidence to independently run for leadership positions based on the reported experience of other women in the community”.
Another aspect of the report reflected a view that the Mizrachi constitution was “no longer fit for purpose”, with the committee termed a “rubber stamp” for the executive.
Despite questioning a number of the assertions in the report, Lamm – who announced last week he would be stepping down as president at the AGM in late May – said, “Every one of the suggestions will be looked at.”
And in his letter to members, he wrote, “This report will be one of the tools we utilise for our planning process going forward.”
Stressing his decision to step down had nothing to do with the report, he told The AJN that after five years, he felt it was time for someone else to take on the position, and was hoping to hand over the reins to a younger member of the executive.
Lamm, who has also served as president of both the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, has served three terms as president of Mizrachi.
“As senior rabbi, I could not have asked for a more supportive president, and I am sure he will find ways to continue giving to the Jewish people for years to come,” Mizrachi’s Rabbi Danny Mirvis told The AJN.