ULaw alumnus Rabbi Alex Goldberg has had a rich and varied career after completing the Bar Vocational Course and the Common Professional Examination with us. We caught up with Rabbi Alex Goldberg to talk about addressing the Human Rights Council and his love of working with communities to bring them together.
I was advised to study law by my professional development mentors. I was open to both a career in law and using a legal education to progress my career ambitions in community development, international relations and human rights. I chose ULaw because it had a great reputation. I was born and raised in Guildford, so I could come home to study after being at the beautiful Braboeuf Manor during my Common Professional Examination.
My early career ambitions were to promote community development, human rights and further community relations. I started life working across 40 European states in developing communities: their welfare, schools and informal education structures. I came to ULaw to focus on my second love: human rights and the pursuit of justice. While studying for the bar at ULaw, I was assigned a human rights mentor who helped me understand the justice system. After spending a few years working for the Bar Council, I went on to spend several years at the Commission for Racial Equality. I used my legal education to intervene on behalf of the government in cities with heightened community tension. During that time, I trained hundreds of government workers in combatting hate and violence.
Parallel to this, I spent a decade heading up a non-government organisation (NGO) on the United Nations Human Rights Council. I was one of the first three speakers to address the new Human Rights Council. I was also responsible for developing new international law instruments that recognised group rights for victims of gross violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
I used my advocacy skills to overturn a government policy that had threatened the future of faith schools. The Department for Education invited me to two ministerial working groups to set out a policy on ‘Faith in the System’ and later to work on school governance. In both cases, my legal skills came in useful.
From there, I was elected as the first of two co-chairs of the Faiths Forum for London founded by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and London Mayor Boris Johnson. With the Mayor, we created the Mayor and Faith Conference.
I founded the Consultative Council of Jewish Organisations (CCJO) Rene Cassin Human Rights Group and have chaired the Football Association’s Faith Forum for several years. We ran community programmes bringing together young people from different faiths and ethnic groups through the power of football.
My mentor and teacher Rabbi Lord Sacks encouraged me to become a rabbi. The week after ordination, I was invited to become the Dean of Religious Life and Belief at the University of Surrey, where I had been the Jewish chaplain for almost two decades. Initially, it was an interim position for three months part-time. Two years later, I’m full-time and in the best job in the world. This year, I’ve taken on additional responsibilities and I am supervising student dissertations in law and religion for the first time.
I am also supporting Surrey County Council during the current pandemic in ethical and moral advice around family support, bereavement and afterlife care. At the University, we have developed online support programmes and have produced over 350 Facebook Live streams which have been watched over 350,000 times. This included the development of programmes that explored intersectionality. One of the most popular programmes is Amplify, which was directed and presented by three student societies representing our African and Afro-Caribbean heritage students that came out of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
We have continued to mark festivals on campus with ‘grab and go’ Iftar for Ramadan, broadcasting 6 different Easter services and a programme called Jewsicals with our Jewish musical drama students.
I have worked hard on developing projects in the Middle East. I was the first rabbi to visit Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli in the last two years. I also visited Oman and was more recently invited to the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding between communities. Hopefully, this can resume after the pandemic.
I got into radio after talking about a festival 20 years or more on local radio. I simply turned on my inner barrister voice and went from there. Today, I regularly present to audiences over 1.5 million. I advise people to start on local radio as you can develop in this arena more easily and learn the ropes. I love Radio 2 and the TV work that I do but think it was wise to take a step-by-step approach to national networks.
I loved my time at ULaw, or the College of Law as it was then. The law conversion course was intensive and I learnt a lot. ULaw helped me decide on my career direction through many of their extra-curricular lectures. When I was at bar school, I met some remarkable people who helped shape my advocacy style and choose a path focused on social issues and human rights.
There was a teacher called John Lloyd at ULaw who was remarkable. From memory, he would pop down to the High Court at lunchtime to argue cases. He spoke to me about how to best utilise my talents and skills. He was an original thinker and helped me to see things in a different light.
Apart from having the best job in the world and serving a community that I really love, changing international law was a special career highlight. Being an advisor to London 2012 and being Olympic Chaplain was amazing. Receiving an award from them and the International Olympic Peace Truce Committee for the 2012 Hours Against Hate programme that I worked on with the US State Department during Secretary Clinton’s time in office.
My employer is great at promoting flexible working. I think it’s important to have a work/life balance. For me, family time is essential. I work long hours and try to make time for family during the Jewish Sabbath and Festivals (since ordination I take services at this time too).
Great barristers tend to love the law, have a great analytical mind and naturally strong advocacy skills. The best of them can see the issues and evidence from all angles and see multiple sides of the argument. I learnt from the best and am grateful for the hours of tutoring from the likes of Owain Davies QC on how to use the law to serve clients best.
There are many hurdles going into the bar and succeeding in your career, especially in the first five years. If you are naturally talented and this is what you really want to do, then go and find mentors and learn from them. Your tutors, practising barristers and even judges have been where you are and most are prepared to give their advice and support. Take up the opportunity to debate, to moot and to get advocacy practice. If you can, come with me to the United Nations (UN) and try it out. I’ve taken many students to Geneva, and there is nothing like putting your case in front of almost 200 ambassadors.
ULaw prepares students for a career. In other words, it immersed us in the world of law, the legal community and concepts. You should take the opportunities available to you through ULaw that go above and beyond the courses core elements. They are vital and will help you on your journey.
I have always had a passion for human rights. My grandfather was a solicitor in Ireland, and he always taught me that everyone has the right to justice. My grandmother was an advocate for cooperation between the Republic of Ireland and her native Ulster; bridging divides and bringing people together. That stayed with me and influenced my career choices. The line ‘justice, justice, you shall seek’ directs me to seek the wellbeing and promote the dignity and rights of my neighbour and my fellow human.
I love people. It is very rewarding seeing people come together, uniting as communities, learning together and feeling that everybody matters. Sometimes, I get notes from individual students and colleagues saying that something we did as a team mattered to them. That’s when I know this is the best job in the world. It’s a privilege to walk with our students and staff and be part of their lives.
In England and Wales, we are bound to see the UK Parliament try to steer away from European law. I’m concerned that politicians will try to remove some equality legislation that comes from EU law or the Human Rights Act. In my opinion, these basic fundamental rights have produced a fairer and more equal society. I would not wish to see the progress that we have made being rolled back. I think there will be change in this area as politics and law clash. In addition, I’m concerned that the independence of the judiciary might come under attack. This has been a most concerning turn of events. I think lawyers defending their clients and judges acting independently of the Executive and Parliament is something that should be defended rigorously and celebrated as a fundamental element of our culture.
If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be enjoy the ride. Life is amazing.