Connections that ensure vibrancy in the community

September 10, 2015 14:17

We can't secure our future on a shoestring. Just a few weeks ago, I welcomed home my son after four weeks on Israel Tour with one of the UK Zionist youth movements. He was one of 1,145 16-year-olds who spent a month in the Jewish homeland this summer, and like so many others in the history of UJIA Israel Experience tours, the impression left on him will last a lifetime.

For several hundred of this year's cohort it was their first time ever standing at the Kotel, the holiest site in Judaism. For almost all of them, this time spent in Israel will be the only opportunity to experience Israel educationally and spiritually, together with their peer group.

In 2015, most of us only ever remember a world with Israel in it, and forget that we went 2,000 years without a land to call home. We forget that we are privileged to be alive at this time, to have the chance to help build a future for the people of Israel, and to inspire a new generation to strengthen their Jewish identity.

This complacence, combined with tough economic times, can breed an attitude which consigns Israel Tour - or informal Jewish education in general - as a "nice to have". Nothing could be further from the truth. Together with our educational outreach programme for Jewish secondary pupils in mainstream schools, and the financial and strategic support of university students and youth movements, UJIA is underpinning a ladder of Jewish engagement that our people depend on. It is about securing the future of mainstream British Jewry, which has declined by a third since its post-war peak.

As a community, we have many needs, including social, welfare and security, and we can be proud of how we look after each other. But we also need to take care of our needs as a people. And for this, it is vitally important to keep our young people connected so that there will be future generations of Jews to continue supporting these essential communal needs.

What is true in the UK is also relevant for Israel. Shockingly, 45% of children in the Galil live below the internationally recognised poverty line. An engaged and inspired community here can play its role in helping Israel reverse this bleak statistic. With generous support we have already built schools and colleges, offered higher education bursaries and pulled at-risk youngsters back from the brink. But we need to do so much more.

Exactly one year ago, I told 1,000 of our supporters at our annual dinner that we needed to double our investment over the next four years if we are to secure continuity, provide help to young Israelis and also give our children a reason to stay involved. And I remember saying: "Transformation cannot be done on a shoestring."

We are a generous nation and there are many worthy causes - I am proud we are rallying to provide aid to the refugees arriving on Europe's shores. That was us so many times in our epic story. However, going into a new year, I ask that we all consider the ongoing needs of our people because we cannot take a vibrant Jewish future, in the UK, and Israel, for granted.

In two weeks, at our 2015 annual dinner, I will be reinforcing this message and I am hoping, through this article, to ignite a wider conversation.

September 10, 2015 14:17

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