Harvey Bratt

UJIA’s Kol Nidre Appeal still matters — even in peacetime

In the 50 years since it rallied to help in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, its campaigns have diversified, but our community’s relationship with Israel remains vital

September 21, 2023 11:59

This October will mark 50 years since the Yom Kippur War, one of the most dangerous threats to its existence Israel has ever faced.

The combined Arab invasion on Yom Kippur in 1973 had a devasting impact on Israel, obviously. But it is hard to overstate the effect it had on Jews around the world as word of the surprise attack began to reach us while at prayer in synagogues on our holiest day of the year.

Still only 25 years old, the fledgling Israeli state was already suffering the strains of previous wars, waves of immigration, hyper-inflation and fiscal deficits.

This war deepened the economic strain, presenting challenges that are almost unrecognisable to generations born since then, who have only known Israel as the advanced, high-tech economy it is today.

The war also marked a turning point in the Israel-Diaspora relationship. The Kol Nidre Appeal had been established some years earlier by JIA (UJIA’s predecessor).

Then, JIA was one of very few Israel-focused fundraising organisations in this country and was the British-Jewish community’s central rallying point for all Israel organisations, raising funds in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of war.

The community’s response was spectacular. In just three weeks, it donated a staggering £58m, the equivalent of £897m today.

Stories of cash collections being made door to door in suitcases and families donating jewellery and other valuables are not apocryphal; this community responded on an unprecedented scale in Israel’s greatest hour of need.

A minute of JIA’s honorary officers including UJIA’s esteemed life president (now Sir) Trevor Chinn, on October 29 1973, records: “The last three weeks [since the outbreak of the war] saw in the United Kingdom the biggest ever fund-raising exercise conducted by a Jewish Community in the world ever”. An astonishing claim but one backed up with evidence of a truly astonishing fundraising drive.

In the 50 years since, not only has there been no equivalent existential threat, but Israel has come of age: a global leader in fields such as technology and innovation, with an enviable economy.

It is also true that in the past 50 years, the number of Israel charities benefiting from British-Jewish generosity has burgeoned. Hundreds of charities now fundraise in the UK, raising significant sums for worthy causes in Israel.

And the position JIA held, as the central rallying point for all things Israel, has been spread around as other organisations — in addition to synagogal bodies — have identified the opportunity of a Kol Nidre appeal to raise funds at the most emotive time of the Jewish year.

Nevertheless, UJIA’s Kol Nidre Appeal continues to play an important role in our fundraising and holds a place in the heart of the “Jew in the pew”, who responds year after year to the emotion of the moment, to the religious imperative of tefillah, tzedakah and teshuva (prayer, charity and repentance), and to the important work that UJIA does.

The relationship between Israel and the British-Jewish community is again reinforced as those of us old enough to remember hark back to October 1973, when the existential threat facing Israel was never clearer.

Kol Nidrei appeals have diversified, but our community’s relationship with Israel remains vital. UJIA works tirelessly to build the relationship between young people in our community and the Israel of our past, present and future.

Though there is no shortage of causes to donate to, Kol Nidre 5784 will again be an opportunity to strengthen our community’s relationship with Israel as it faces its contemporary challenges, and as we evoke those dark days 50 years ago when Israel faced down an existential threat and emerged triumphant.

Harvey Bratt is UJIA’s director of fundraising and planned giving

September 21, 2023 11:59

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