Leonie’s View – Commitment, Conviction and Community: A Tale of Two Leaders

The passing of Baroness Thatcher last week marked, for many, the end of an era, but her legacy of ‘Thatcherism’ will live on in the actions of governments and the minds of the British public for decades, possibly centuries, to come. Love her or hate her, one cannot deny that she was the woman Prime Minister who shaped the nation’s political philosophy possibly more than any other post war leader.

Thatcher embodied many traits of a good leader. She was a leader of firm conviction, standing by her policies for better or worse. And the result of this was that she divided an entire country – hailed by her supporters for “rolling back the state”, reducing the power of unions and restoring Britain’s international prominence, but despised by her opponents for allowing many people to pay the price for her relentlessly free-market orientated policies in terms of rising unemployment and social unrest. She clearly loved her country and was determined to make Britain great once more, demonstrated by the 1982 Falklands War victory and her dislike of European politics. She is described as a Great Briton!

Margaret Thatcher: an "exceptional leader"

Margaret Thatcher: an “exceptional leader”

But, moreover, she was a female leader in a male-dominated arena, possessing a greater power and influence base than many of her male peers, and standing on a par with other world leaders such as Reagan and Pinochet. Aside from whether this is a triumph for feminism or individualism, a woman in such a position of power and of such a large national and international profile for eleven years is a rare thing even nowadays, and can only be viewed as an extremely impressive achievement.

Such was the feeling of Lady Sacks, wife of the Chief Rabbi, First Lady of the United Hebrew Congregations, for whom JVN hosted an invite-only audience this week with over 60 women representing several community organisations and from different sides of London.

Lady sacks is moving towards the end of 22 years as Chief Rebbetzin, and she recalled how impressed she was  when she met Thatcher,  particularly by her strong leadership qualities.

I see both women as leaders in their field, and both leave a lasting legacy to different communities.

The JVN event, in part a celebration of women in volunteering, was conducted through the eyes of Lady Sacks, patron of many Jewish charities. The event was in essence a conversation interview with Elissa Bayer, Senior Investment Director at Investec.  Both women are active members of the JVN Advisory Board, and both see volunteering, and in particular that of young people, as a major community resource which needs to be promoted. Former JVN Chair of Trustees Susan Winton, who chaired this fundraising event, echoed these sentiments by declaring, “Young volunteers make old volunteers.”

Lady Sacks and Elissa Bayer share a joke at the event last week

Lady Sacks (r) and Elissa Bayer share a joke at the event last week

Lady Sacks talked about how women provide a valuable service in leadership roles, often complementing the work of men on boards. She also noted the positive contribution of women in the voluntary sector, particularly in Jewish community organisations such as synagogues and the wide range of Jewish charities. Indeed, there are several charities dedicated to women in the community such as Jewish Women’s Aid, Emunah and WIZO UK, of which Lady Sacks is herself a patron.

She also spoke about her own experiences of volunteering. Having been an active supporter of countless charities over the years along with her husband, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, she noted that she was often so in-demand that she had sometimes struggled to fulfil all her roles and pledges to the extent that she might have liked. She remarked that it might be more useful for high-profile patrons and supporters of charities to have fewer responsibilities towards those charities and therefore make better use of their time to fully carry out the responsibilities they do have.

However, Lady Sacks has by no means been put off dedicating her time to the wellbeing of the Jewish community. On the contrary, she mentioned that she was looking forward to continued volunteering, and relishes the new challenges that may lie ahead. Having recently elected to become a trustee of Norwood, she also said that she intends to engage more with the charity and play a more active role in helping it to reach its objectives.

She also spoke, on a more personal level, about her time as the Chief Rabbi’s wife and the lessons she has learnt. In particular, she commented that being a wife and mother in a high-profile position was especially demanding and one of the main challenges of her role over the last 12 years. However, with all the trials and tests of her glamorous life in the spotlight, Lady Sacks has performed her role admirably and has shown neither tiredness nor a lack of enthusiasm for serving the community. And as for moving on, she joked that she was looking forward to a more relaxed life, but that it was going to take several days to pack up all the Chief Rabbi’s books and relocate!

There are certain parallels that can be drawn between Baroness Thatcher and Lady Sacks; they shared characteristics that set themselves apart from others in their respective fields. Both led by example. They both experienced the benefits and burdens of a life that has made exceptional demands on their time. And they both demonstrated passionate commitments to a cause: in Thatcher’s case, a political and socioeconomic one; and in Lady Sacks’ case, a community-based and charitable one. Whatever the future holds for the role of women in high-profile roles in Jewish or the wider society, the one thing that is certain is that Lady Sacks can be looked to as a role-model for the countless number of women that strive to improve our community in leadership and other positions.

View highlights of the interview here, courtesy of the Jewish Online Magazine.


Categories: JVN Events, Leonie's View, Volunteering Profiles


Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.


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