Neil Janes

Neil Janes

by Rabbi Neil  Janes 

I want to tell you how I think a progressively-minded Jew can respond to the recently announced boycott by some UK academics of Israeli universities.

Based on a recent trip to Israel, my response is founded on three principles:

First, support universities in Israel whose academic output is impressive and valuable and not a shill for the government.

Second, draw on the renewal of Jewish culture that comes from Israel in part from the academic institutions of Israel.

Third, support organisations and groups that reflect our values of coexistence, dialogue, peace and a two-state solution, with an end to inequality for ethnic minorities in Israel and to the occupation and expansion of settlements.

Regarding universities in Israel, last week I was in Israel to enrol for the new year at the university of Haifa, continuing my PhD research. It was the first week of classes and the buildings were lively and energetic.

The library at Haifa University has been renovated in the past few years and the displays now show the sheer variety of research, including my PhD supervisor’s incredible work on the Cairo Genizah. Regarding my second principle: the renewal of Jewish culture.

I visited the Hebrew University, Florence Melton School, to talk with them about running the Melton courses in London at the Lyons Institute for adult Jewish education.

I was excited to meet in person with the faculty to discuss an important programme for furthering meaningful Jewish learning for adults – which is produced by the university.

It was wonderful and a real fulfilment of how we can renew the Jewish spirit. Regarding my third principle: supporting organisations that reflect our values. My most inspiring meeting was in the Leo Baeck Education Centre in Haifa, an organisation close to the heart of the West London Synagogue and its Eretz programme (I’m also the chairman of the British Friends of Leo Baeck charity).

I heard about the work of Beit Ligdol Tov – a centre for the most socio-economically deprived families of Haifa, primarily Russian and Ethiopian, to support their lives and access to learning. This is alongside the Sauwa centre – an Early Childhood Development centre for the Arab population.

A social worker described how she supports families through the school and even at Haifa University, so that opportunities for higher education become natural choices for them. So my response to the academic boycott is this: learn about and support academic life at universities in Israel; be immersed in the new opportunities for Jewish life, like those run by the Lyons Institute such as the Melton courses.

And, finally, either through programmes like those at West London Synagogue or independently, support those organisations that reflect values of coexistence, dialogue and peace like the incredible Leo Baeck Education Centre.

• Neil is rabbi of West London Synagogue