Me and You for the JC December 17 2021
Michael and Jonathan Goldstein, 58 and 55 respectively, are brothers and big machers in the Jewish community. Michael is president of the United Synagogue and Jonathan has just stepped down from chairing the Jewish Leadership Council. There is a third, younger brother, Daniel, who lives in Israel. All three were brought up in Ilford, sons of Jerry and Anne Goldstein. After Michael’s barmitzvah the family gradually became more religiously observant. Michael was a trustee of Jewish Continuity and chair of JW3, taking up his post as US president four months after Jonathan was installed as JLC chair in 2017. Michael is chief executive of a large private property company, while Jonathan is founder and chief executive of Cain International, a private investment firm. Each has four children.
Michael on Jonathan:
I don’t really remember Johnny’s arrival. I’m two and a half years older than him [Jonathan interrupts: two and three-quarters!] but I have memories of Daniel’s arrival. Johnny is hyper-active and more opinionated than me. He was always more confident.
“We went to exactly the same schools: Ilford Jewish Primary School and Ilford County High School. As a teenager, I was much quieter than I am now, so the gap between us in noise was much greater. A few weeks into Jonny joining Ilford County High School, I remember saying to my mum, I can’t deal with this. Wherever I am in the school, I can hear him. I think Mum just laughed.
“In the last couple of years at school I was involved in the Redbridge Jewish Youth Council and became its chairman, and also in Bnei Akiva. After school I did a foundation course in accountancy at City of London and then went straight to work — the old-fashioned route into the profession. There wasn’t a lot of laying down the law in the family, it was more sort of group-think. We were — and are — a very tight-knit family. Our dad’s philosophy was that there should be no secrets, and there weren’t. We shared stuff.
“Jonny’s always been more involved in pure politics than me. But I got involved communally first of all when Young Jewish Care started, and I gravitated to the educational stuff, which is what I was particularly passionate about. I got involved with Chief Rabbi Jakobovits in 1990 — that was my first exposure to the senior leaders of the community. So we’ve been at this a long time.
“Jonny has a lot of my dad about him. Dad treasured the relationships that he built with people, he didn’t distinguish between commercial or social contacts, he just saw them all as one, and Johnny interacts with people the same way.
“I think both of us are action-orientated people, in that we want to make things happen. That’s a core similarity: to listen to some [communal organisations] which seem to exist only to allow people to vent, that’s something I personally can’t cope with. You can see it when you analyse my inbox and my voicemails: they will be full of people wanting to talk to me about why such and such an organisation is veering to the right, and a different group wanting to discuss why the same organisation has gone to the left. Really, all they’re saying is that they’re not agreeing with them, and I struggle to deal with that. I think it’s a distraction from what the community needs.
“I think the United Synagogue, in terms of its breadth, has a reach in the community, operationally, which far extends beyond any other organisation. We basically own the whole mechanics of the central Orthodox world, and then you’ve got schools, and obviously shuls are the core of it. Operationally, we are stronger than the JLC. They have got no power. I can just get on with something and just do it.
“Our wives were batmitzvah together and have known each other longer than they’ve known us. So we, and our families, are very close.”
Jonathan on Michael:
The thing about a Goldstein, they’re never short of an opinion. [Michael interrupts: He’s far more opinionated than me. Jonathan shoots back: That’s actually not true! Both brothers crack up].
“Ilford was a great place to grow up, but Michael and I always went down slightly different paths. Up until very recently we never sat on a board together, we both really had our own space. I was always far more boisterous, but we’ve always lived very close to each other in many ways. The two and three-quarter year gap has never been a big thing.
“I remember finishing my A-levels, and Michael was waiting outside school as I finished my final exam and we drove to Birmingham to hear Stevie Wonder in concert. This was the summer of 1984 — he was coming up to 21 and I was 18. We’ve always had the same interests, be it music, football (Spurs) or cricket. Michael likes to sing more than I do. In that way he’s actually much more confident than me.
“I joined BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organisation) and it was a wonderful thing, I loved it. I went to America, they used to send six or seven kids there every year, and at the end of my Lower Sixth year I went to Philadelphia on their leadership training course for the whole summer. I fell in love with the whole Zionism and Jewish identity thing — it’s been such a big part of all of us, for ever, it’s no real surprise that one of us has ended up in Israel and two of us have ended up doing what we’re doing.
“I went to international law firm Olswang LLP, becoming a partner at age 28 and the youngest ever chief executive of a city law firm at age 32. There was a lot of press about me and sometimes you need someone just to tell you when you are overstepping the mark. Michael said I should pipe down, and he was right.
“Michael and I know each other extremely well — and who are you going to rely on when it comes to big decisions but those closest to you. The biggest decision I ever made in my life was to leave the law and go and work with Gerald [Ronson]. I prevaricated in my own head for two weeks. Michael said, you’ve been talking about doing something different for ages, just get on with it. [He became Ronson’s deputy at Heron International.] We know each other so well. We irritate each other, we drive each other mad…
“I like talking to people and knowing their lives. I walked through the airport recently and I was lucky enough to have a ‘meet and assist’ facility. By the time I left the airport, the woman had told me her life story and how she hadn’t spoken to her husband for 10 years, even though he lived upstairs and she lived downstairs. He was ill and needed to take tablets and he came downstairs two days a week to collect the tablets and I said why don’t you take the tablets up on the other days, and she said, no, because that would just be playing to his laziness. [Michael is almost sobbing with laughter.]
“As far as Michael is concerned, I admire what he does and I could never do it. He’s much more patient than me. I just couldn’t deal with some of the issues he has to face”.