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We need to safeguard the future of AJEX

Young people are the future of the community, and therefore the future of events like this. We must not let this opportunity and honour slip through our fingers.  

    Judge Barrington Black (centre) taking part in this year's AJEX parade. Photographed by his son.
    Judge Barrington Black (centre) taking part in this year's AJEX parade. Photographed by his son.

    Yesterday, I attended the AJEX parade – the annual march organised by the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women to commemorate those from the community who have served and fought bravely for this country in both world wars and beyond.  I marched alongside my grandpa with immense pride as a British Jew, both in memory of the service and sacrifice of my predecessors as well as in recognition of and with gratitude to this country, for letting us live happily and freely as Jews in Britain.

    However, intermingled with that sense of pride was also a lurking sense of sadness. As each year passes, the surrounding streets of spectators get emptier and emptier and with that, the future of this parade seems less and less promising.  Yet, with fewer veterans around and able to participate, the importance of support from the side-lines is getting more, not less important.

    It is not often that Whitehall is closed off and traffic is stopped. One such occasion is Remembrance Sunday and another is the AJEX parade.  I consider it an honour and a privilege that the city and relevant authorities regard this weekend’s march with the same stature and respect as last week’s, but I fear that our own community does not bestow such importance upon it.

    Youth movements – where were you? BA, Noam, BBYO, RSY, LJY, Tribe, Habo (and anyone else I may have forgotten) – when there is a rally in celebration, defence or protest of action relating to Israel, we are all able to assemble in a matter of hours and come out in force to show solidarity.  Why not Sunday?  

    Whilst opinions held by these organisations vary greatly over matters of both religion and Zionism, surely this is common ground. Can we not all agree that we should pay respect to the British Jews who fought on our behalf and on behalf of our country? Are we not all grateful for the life we are able to lead here as Jews today?

    There is little to no organised representation from youth movements, with the obvious exception of JLGB, but this would be the easiest and best way to change the ever-depleting numbers. Young people are the future of the community, and by default therefore the future of this march. We must not let this opportunity and honour slip through our fingers.  

    That the parade has coincided with Mitzvah Day in recent years is either a well-intentioned although, in my opinion, misguided attempt to boost numbers or else a perfect example of how little notice the community takes of the parade.  In either case, it certainly does not help matters that many would-be regulars find themselves having to choose between the two.  

    Whether you’re a member of a youth movement or not, please consider this article a plea.

    I am not asking for money, nor any excessive time commitments. I am simply asking for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon next November. And seeing as 2018 will mark one hundred years since the armistice, it will surely be one to remember. I speak from first-hand experience when I say it is truly humbling to stand in central London and hear Adon Olam and the national anthem sung in succession.

    As the famous saying goes: for our tomorrow, they gave their today.  I for one believe it’s turned out to be a pretty great tomorrow – arguably greater than many of those who made that sacrifice could have dreamed of – living freely and happily in this country as Jews. Let’s not take it for granted, let’s show our respect, let’s show our gratitude and let’s stand loud and proud and most importantly together as British Jews.

    18 November 2018. Put it in the diary now.