Analysis: The UK and Europe can lead the way

By David Brown, May 26, 2011

Returning from Siach, I am filled with pride to be part of the UK Jewish community, but perhaps even more proud to now consider myself part of the revitalised European Jewish community.

Our European delegation was young and old, religious and secular and came from a mix of grassroots and establishment organisations. It is the strength and vibrancy of our diversity, as well as our increasingly effective partnerships, that enabled us to engage with and contribute so much to this process with our cousins from North America and Israel. Perhaps due to our small size, we understand the necessity of collaboration. Perhaps more than the Americans and the Israelis, we have experience of working with ideas different to ours and finding common ground.

For example, Germany's Ines Astrug, from the European Janus Korczak Academy, works on children's rights projects inspired by the famous children's rights advocate. In similar fashion, human rights group Rene Cassin here in the UK inspires people with the work of the French-Jewish lawyer on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Europe was bringing plenty to the table at Siach when it came to linking Jewish values and experience, dynamic activism and innovative approaches. But UK and European Jewry have emerged as key players in the global Jewish social justice conversation, not least because of the support and practical assistance from the Pears Foundation.

Its support for a Jewish contribution to wider society and for Israel's role as a global citizen - and the conceptual link between the two - informed our approach, allowing us to be confident and comfortable at Siach in two areas that sometimes posed problems. At times, UK and European participants seemed more comfortable with Israel than the Americans and more comfortable with Judaism than the Israelis. Siach's aim of connecting people to their Jewish identity as a way to push for a more just and sustainable world on the main global stage is a path European Jewry is already on.

We are all grappling with what the 'Jewish' is in social action. We are influenced by the multiculturalism of Europe and at the same time dealing with the challenges of falling numbers of Jewish people, but have the excitement of a renaissance of Jewish life in Europe. JSAF, UK and European Jewry and our global partners are beginning to live a vision that strengthens Jewish identity in a way that fosters commitment to Jewish values, pushing us to act for a more just and sustainable world for all.

David Brown is co-ordinator of the Jewish Social Action Forum and Siach's European development partner

Last updated: 10:11am, May 26 2011