Youth workers challenged at UJIA education conference

Event features a broad cast of presenters from a Golders Green rebbetzin to a Palestinian Israeli artist


Telling different stories: the UJIA conference for youth workers.

Around 140 youth movement organisers and others who work with young Jewish people took part in a UJIA conference which featured educators from a leading international Jewish institute.

UJIA has previously run annual conferences for informal educators under the umbrella of Reshet, the Jewish youth support group.

But last week’s Kenes (“Conference”) at the JW3 Centre was the first since Reshet merged with UJIA last year.

“We have people here from across the Jewish spectrum from Bnei Akiva to LJY-Netzer (Liberal Jewish Youth)”, said Shelley Marsh, former head of Reshet, who is now UJIA director of collaborate leadership.

Three educators from the Shalom Hartman Institute, which has branches in Israel and the USA, led sessions, including some on study of biblical and rabbinic sources. The institute was founded by the late Rabbi David Hartman, an Orthodox rabbi with a commitment to Jewish pluralism.

“UJIA has got a strategic partnership with Hartman,” Marsh said. “This was an incredible opportunity to bring Hartman’s Torah and Hartman’s wisdom here.”

Under the theme of “narratives”, participants explored how the personal and collective stories we tell about ourselves help to shape our outlook.

“Some of our narratives are going to make us feel uncomfortable,” Marsh said at the opening session. “I want you to be challenged by these narratives.”

Invoking the rabbinic principle of machloket l’shem shamayim, “argument for the sake of heaven”, she spoke of the need for “respectful conversations” — which touched on some sessions on the fallout and tensions since October 7.

Presenters ranged from Dr Rachel Lichtenstein and Daniela Greiber who are running a new project, Kaleidoscope, on behalf of Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe to encourage young Jews in Europe to write their autobiographies; to Rebbetzin Dr Hadassah Fromson, of Golders Green Synagogue, who spoke on how the media influences attitudes to sexuality; to Mira Awad, the Palestinian Israeli, a singer who once represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Now a storytelling consultant in London, Awad recalled her upbringing in a small village in the north of Israel and her move to Haifa as a student, explaining how stories had helped her to overcome obstacles.

Turning to events in the Middle East, the longtime peace activist described both sides as “bunkered in the narratives of their own victimhood”.

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