A few years ago our agency was tasked with a project by a Jerusalem-based NGO. Its income had been falling since the early 2000s and fundraisers wanted to establish what would motivate Generation X and Millennials to donate. A challenge made harder as the buoyant “start-up nation” of the mid-2010s became increasingly removed from the “cause” their parents and grandparents had rallied behind throughout the century before.
I met people of all ages and backgrounds, from across the Jewish world and beyond. But one meeting, with a Holocaust survivor, left an indelible mark. “You see, we Jews always have a suitcase packed and ready by the door,” he warned. “But in 1948 we got to put the address tag on it.”
The Jewish homeland has been a constant throughout our history. In exile we yearned to return. Then, as the state was granted independence, a partnership across the diaspora brought those dreams to life. When Jews needed to flee persecution, Israel wasn’t just ready and waiting, it orchestrated their escape. It has been a relationship of existential necessity.
And then, October 7, in an instant, Israel stopped feeling like a safe haven. Worse, it felt like its existence was under threat. Those of us too young to remember 1948, 1967 or 1973 had taken Israel for granted. Even with every lesson from our history, we still took Israel for granted.
As it evolved, as the skyscrapers rose and the military grew in power, Israel became an insurance policy to cash in, as and when needed. Israel was there for us. Yet, as a result of our complacency, we could not always say the same.
The immediate response to October 7 has been everything you would expect and more. People who have not given for years have dug deep. The insurance premium is being paid in full — for now. But what happens next? The relationship between Israel and the diaspora had stagnated. As we come out of this trauma we need to press the reset button and, together, re-establish what it means to be the Jewish homeland and to be a Jew outside its borders.
The starting point must be a focus on that which brings us together as opposed to the things that drive us apart.
On peoplehood, on a shared history and a desire for a better Israel without demanding a perfect Israel. Too many had made their support for and relationship with Israel conditional.
We looked over our shoulder to determine when, how and even if we should state our Zionist credentials, as we sought to avoid the political or social wrath of those who would hold Israel to a higher standard.
Israel is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Never has this been more apparent than when it is seemingly at its most vulnerable.
As people take to the UK’s streets in their hundreds of thousands, some calling for the dismantling of Israel, others for jihad and a number even glorifying the murder of babies, it would be naive not to ask, again, “What if?” What if the baying mob gets its wish? What if it becomes too dangerous to send our kids to Jewish schools?
What if university campuses become no-go areas for Jewish students? Just pick up the suitcase and get on the next flight to Israel? What if there were no Israel to turn to? What if that insurance policy suddenly got cancelled when we needed it most?
And as I look at Britain and look to Israel, struggling to work out how any of this has happened I ask myself, where do we go from here?