Julia Neuberger tells students to shun aliyah

Baroness Neuberger, the president of Liberal Judaism, has told British gap-year students in Israel to return home to be community leaders rather than settle in Israel.

She made the point this week during a keynote address at the five-day convention of the World Union of Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem.

Speaking on her return to the UK, Baroness Neuberger said she had wanted to emphasise that if Zionist youth groups encouraged all its gap-year graduates to go to Israel, then “what hopes for leadership for us?”

She said: “I think we want to get them trained and inspired in Israel, but I want some to come back and be leaders in the UK and Europe.”

Rabbi Jonathan Romain, chairman of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, who was a delegate at the conference, said: “She is right. We need our teenagers and young adults to be enthused by experiencing Israel and then coming back here to enrich British Jewry, not to stay in Israel and denude us of our own best leadership.”

He added: “If we believe British Jewry has a future...then we want to keep those who are the most Jewishly committed, not export them. Israel has built itself up into a vibrant society and it is British Jewry which needs to make sure it can survive.”

Both the Liberal and Reform youth movements in the UK are affiliated to the international Progressive Zionist movement, Netzer, which has “continuing aliyah” as one of its objectives.

Daniel Lichman, mazkir of the Reform’s RSY-Netzer in the UK, commented: “The idea of aliyah speaks to young people in the movement less than it did in the past.”

He said that six graduates of the movement’s gap-year programme in Israel — which has 10-20 participants annually — had made aliyah in the last four years, while roughly as many had gone to train to be Progressive rabbis for the UK.

His counterpart at the Liberal’s LjY-Netzer, Benjy Aarons-Richardson, believed that there was still a role for aliyah. “If we want to get equality for Progressive Judaism in Israel, then we need have Progressive Zionists in Israel fighting that case. We can’t just do it from afar.”

Last updated: 5:04pm, March 26 2009