When around 50 young Jewish activists gathered in Parliament Square in May to say Kaddish for the 62 Palestinians killed in the clashes around the Gaza border, they cannot have known that their actions would trigger a crisis in the community that has still fully to play out.
For some — almost certainly the vast majority of British Jews — their actions were a grotesque warping of the Kaddish prayer. But for others, even if they did not agree with the stance of the ‘mourners’, the reaction has been out of all proportion, with participants ostracised and attacked for “kapo-ism”.
Beyond the immediate rights and wrongs of the Kaddish itself, the broader context highlights a potentially seismic change in our community.
Younger generations are always more radical than their elders. But traditionally they have been reticent about channelling that radicalism into direct challenges to the communal leadership, whether that be the people or the structures. That reticence appears to be vanishing.
Last week’s open letter, signed by more than 100 leaders and graduates of mainstream left-wing Zionist movements, asserted that “ending the occupation and creating a just, peaceful society is more than a position. It is a principle of our Zionism”.
It is important to note that this is a very different dynamic to the row over antisemitism and the Labour Party, with so-called “asaJews”, who have no real connection to the community, using their Jewishness as a political tool to attack those critical of Jeremy Corbyn. The signatories of the open letter are from four mainstream Zionist movements — Noam (Masorti), RSY Netzer (Reform), LJY-Netzer (Liberal) and Habonim.
Further, as we report, the UK branch of the New Israel Fund has for the second successive year raised a record sum — over £2.75m. NIF can no longer be dismissed as a fringe body, whether or not one agrees with its outlook.
These changes pose all sorts of questions for our community, from the political — what exactly is the centre ground for British Jews on Israel now? — to the institutional — can any one body, such as the Board of Deputies or Jewish Leadership Council, possibly hope to represent these hugely divergent views?
There are many more, but these are fundamental questions which must now be urgently asked — and answered. There is a sense in which these are epochal times, with challenges from every quarter to the status quo.
Calm deliberation and goodwill on all sides are required.