Israel’s president has said it is “not easy” to be Jewish in Britain today – but insisted there is no inherent battle between “left-wing ideas” and Jews worldwide.
His comments came in an address to the United Synagogue’s record- breaking mission to Israel marking the country’s 70th birthday.
One of the largest UK delegations to the state in recent decades, the 150 visited central locations in the state’s formation and heard first-hand from some of those who have played key roles in its rollercoaster history.
President Reuven Rivlin, wrapping up the four-day mission on Monday, said it was not possible to travel around the country without seeing the positive imprint of British Jewry – and hailed the community as a “bridge” in soaring bilateral cooperation across trade and academia. Diaspora Jewry, he said, was like a fifth tribe of Israel “led by the people of Great Britain”.
But he said: “You have many challenges. Jewish schools need bomb proof windows. Your shuls need protection, night and day. You face hatred on the right. You face hatred on the left. You face hatred from radical Islamist groups. We do not have a war, with left-wing ideas, or right-wing ideas. But we will stand up, and we will speak out, when these ideas are twisted, to teach hatred of Jews, and God forbid, to attack Jews.” He added: “Israel stands side by side with you, just as you stand with us.”
Rivlin expressed hope that the upcoming visit of the Duke of Cambridge would bring “much nachus” to Anglo-Jewry. “It is a chance to show him, and the British people, our wonderful country.”
He was presented with a machzor and a book on the royals, before recalling to the audience the moment Prince William’s grandmother ascended to the throne when he was a young child. “I remember thinking we have a new Queen,” he recalled.
One man who will play a central role in rolling out the red carpet for the first official Royal visit is British Ambassador David Quarrey, who hosted the group for tea at his residence.
British-born former Ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub and his wife Zehava spoke of their time at the Embassy and life in Israel when they joined Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis for a Shabbat programme – with all three on entertaining form.
A tour of the Knesset saw a Q&A session with Deputy Speaker Hilik Bar, who was pivotal in the recent move by Israeli Labour to sever ties with Jeremy Corbyn.
But the trip was focused on events seven decades ago rather than the present, with visits to Independence Hall, Mount Herzl and the site of the former Atlit detention camp south of Haifa, where illegal Jewish immigrants were held by the British after trying to reach Palestine.
The most moving moments of the trip came from its final speaker, Doron Almog, the former IDF major general who was the first to arrive at Entebbe. There was barely a dry eye as he spoke of his journey to create Aleh Negev, a pioneering rehabilitation centre for the severely disabled in memory of his son, Eran, who passed away 11 years ago, aged just 23.
The United Synagogue’s Alan Aziz and Ida Symons, who organised the trip and ran it together with Rabbi Laitner, said: “This was the most successful group they have taken to Israel, made possible due to the unrivalled extensive reach the United Synagogue has.”
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