UK Jewish communities given hope as they remember Israel’s fallen and celebrate the nation’s resilience

The Chief Rabbi said the community had more support than it realised


The community celebrates Yom Ha'atzmaut (Photo: Robert Bray)

Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis has told British Jews that when it comes to Israel, they have “much to be hopeful for”.

Speaking at the annual UJIA Yom Ha’atzmaut business breakfast on Tuesday alongside Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely and October 7 survivors, the Chief Rabbi said that while it may feel like Israel is alone, the Jewish people have more supporters than we might think.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis also said that the Jewish people are strengthened by “Medinat Israel”, and that the Jewish people’s strength comes from our unity. Retelling a story from the Book of Joshua, he said that each part of the community was a strand that, when together, produced a rope that gave Jewish people their strength.

On Sunday evening, more than 500 people gather in Hampstead Garden Suburb United Synagogue (HGSS) to commemorate Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s remembrance fay for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Teenagers from HGSS youth lit memorial candles for those who fell in defence of the state of Israel and the Yishuv prior to 1948.

Addressing the crowd, Chief Rabbi Mirvis said Yom Hazikaron had always been “an exceptionally difficult day” for the Jewish community, but this year “our pain is particularly deep and our sorrow enormous”.

In a video address, Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely thanked the Chief Rabbi and the United Synagogue for their friendship and support since October 7, which “means so much to the people of Israel”.

The evening featured a number of contributions from Israel, including from British-born IDF reservists and the parents of Nathaniel Young, the British lone soldier who was killed in the October 7 attacks.

Numerous communities came together to mark the days in their own way. Richmond Synagogue held a special event, in which it invited members of its community to gather around candles to share texts they had written or that “resonated with their emotions and thought”, they said.

The south-west London community hosted a soldier in the IDF, who recently served as a combat medic in the parachute battalion in Gaza and shared with attendees the stories of his fallen friends.

At Bushey United meanwhile, over 200 people gathered to hear prayers for fallen soldiers and a call for a return of the hostages. The community heard messages from Bushey Olim who are serving in the IDF and they also heard from family members of Chaim Peri, 79, and Elkhana Bohbot, 34,  the two hostages  the community has collectively adopted under the Board of Deputies scheme.

They heard from keynote speakers Paul Charney, CEO of Technion UK, and Rabbi Leo Dee, who spoke to them live from Israel.

Four north London Progressive communities, Southgate Progressive, Finchley Progressive and The Liberal Synagogue Elstree, came together at the Sha’arei Tsedek Synagogue in Barnet on Monday to also mark and reflect on Israel’s Day of Remembrance and Independence.

Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu of Sha’arei Tsedek Synagogue said it “is a time like no other in Israel’s history. For Jews in the UK there are no simple answers and no easy reactions. This is not a time for falafel or dancing. It is a time for reflection, for building a depth of understanding and support in our own community and for looking to the future.”

The evening included stories and testimony from Rabbi Ambalu’s recent trip to Israel, and music that included well-known melodies and one new choral piece arranged specifically for the event from choir director Louise Katin.

Rabbi Rebecca Birk of Finchley Progressive Synagogue said they were “grateful this year to share these memorial moments with three other synagogues. The power of connection and collaboration is strengthening and powerful right now for us Liberal and Reform Jews.”

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