By Nir Cohen
A bit over three years ago I was offered to move to London as a shaliach (delegate) of the WZO (World Zionist Organisation), Department for Diaspora activities.
When I was asked whether I was interested or not, the answer- ‘no thank you’ was on the tip of my tongue. Somehow the answer ‘yes’ just came out of my mouth.
I didn’t want to leave Israel. I didn’t want to leave all of my friends and family. Let’s not even talk about the heat, the sun, the beach…I had good life in Israel and I didn’t feel the need for a change.
Now I know that moment probably changed my life forever. Three years later, it is time to sum it all up and to go back home, to Israel. But before I do I would like to share with you my experiences, thoughts and feeling as an Israeli who spent three years working within this remarkable British Jewish community. I would like to start by saying thank you.
Thank you for showing me how it feels like being part of a community and what is its essence and importance. A Place where you feel you belong and connected. A place where even if you don’t know everyone you still have something in common. A feeling of togetherness, mutual responsibility.
I know for some, this will not sound new, as you were growing up in the community. But for someone who up until three years ago lived all his life in Israel, and had no idea what it’s like; all of a sudden being part of the Jewish community here exposed me for the first time in my life to question proposition: “how does it feel like being a minority?”
Let’s face it, In Israel unless you live in a kibbutz or a moshav you will never be familiar with this feeling. Being part of this community has given me the feeling I belong to something greater than myself.
I discovered a need to make an effort in order to keep and maintain my identity.
In Israel, thanks to the fact I am part of the majority I never had to face it. So, thank you for showing me how challenging it is, and what it takes to be a Jew in the Diaspora in 2014.
Thank you for showing me there is more than one way to be or to feel Jewish and that I can just pick and choose the way I most connect with.
I realised that Judaism is not necessarily black or white- either secular or religious and that a synagogue is not just a house of prayer but also a place for the community to get together, like a family.
I promise to take it all back home with me. I hope to implement some of it and and to share it with my fellow Israelis.
I believe that by doing so I am bringing Israel and the Diaspora closer together and strengthening our Jewish people hood, which is so important for all of us, especially these days when the Jewish world has so many different challenges.
The world in which we live in today has changed. Many different social conventions which were once obvious are not anymore. The young generation tend to doubt their values which were once considered acceptable and the norm.
As such, young Jews question their relation with Israel, Zionism and Jewish identity.
One of the things I focused on while being here was to raise questions, to create a discourse and a discussion based on those dilemmas.
Because I believe we have to create safe platforms in which young Jews will be able to ventilate their thoughts and feelings, and we must not forget that to argue and dispute is a core Jewish value as well Machlokes leshem shamaim (argument for heaven’s sake) was the base on which our ancestors were debating while sitting in a chavruta. One can learn how to listen to the other even if they don’t agree.
I hope the community will keep disputing and discussing the hard questions even though it is not always easy. But I believe this is the only way to build an open minded, tolerant society and community
. Strengthening the relation between Israel and the Diaspora can start by bringing Israelis, who are UK based, closer together with the Jewish community.
I was fortunate and yet challenged to be directed by my supervisors to reach out to the UK Israeli community. As such, I founded the “Israeli salon” which is a Hebrew speaking young professional communal group where we had discussions, celebrated the holidays together and more.
The group now counts over 400 active members and I admit I was amazed by the need for it. This was also a great opportunity to build bridges with the Jewish community.
We had joint Friday night dinners with same age groups in the Jewish community, had a group joining March of The living, volunteered at the Holocaust survivor centre and more. I believe both communities have a lot to offer to each other.
The Jewish community can be a source of support and a way to maintain Israeli’s Jewish identity, and at the same time, Israelis have the potential to better connect with the Jewish community to modern Israel.
Finally, I would like to thank my friends and colleagues at the Jewish Agency delegation and at the Zionist Federation for giving me the support, the guidance and the platform which without them I couldn’t have done any of this.