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Israelis shocked at life in Britain

    A group of Israeli parliamentary advisers say a visit to Britain to learn about pluralism in the Jewish community has revealed a stark contrast to their lives at home.

    The fourteen, among them political advisers, Knesset spokespeople and parliamentary journalists, met representatives from all sections of British Jewry during the five-day trip.

    They learnt about the range of Jewish activities experienced in the diaspora, but which is often less apparent in Israeli society.

    Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner of North Western Reform Synagogue were among those to meet them.

    The Israelis also visited the Board of Deputies, the new cross-denominational school, JCoSS and parliamentary friends of Israel groups.

    Your MPs don’t all talk at the same time — wow

    One of the most eye-opening experiences came when they were watching a House of Commons committee hearing. The Israelis said they were shocked to find MPs speaking "one at a time, not talking on their mobile phones and not wandering around the room having private conversations".

    The trip was part of the Gvarim Programme, set up by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco in 2000 to develop relationships between Israelis and diaspora Jews.

    Ranit Budaie-Hyman, a graduate of the project and organiser of the visit, said: "Previously, many of these advisers had no understanding of the terms Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or Charedi.

    "Talking to the different rabbis opened up diverse Jewish worlds and the group now understands more about those communities.

    "We were honoured to see how communities work together to present a united front in upholding Jewish practice in Britain. Jewish life outside Israel is very different from in Israel."

    Ms Budaie-Hyman is a political adviser to Rabbi Michael Melchior, former Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

    The group participants were from across the spectrum of Israeli religious and social backgrounds.

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