By Graham Carpenter, community co-ordinator, New Israel Fund
Ezra Schwartz was murdered by a Palestinian extremist in November, just outside the Gush Etzion settlement, while delivering food to lone soldiers. He was 18.
I knew Ezra. It’s not like he was my best friend, but he typified the leaders of Machaneh Yavneh in New Hampshire, in the US, where I was fortunate enough to spend eight weeks working this summer in charge of sports.
My main memories of him are that he was funny and light-hearted, devoted to the ideals and traditions of his community, passionate about sport, and always putting the children first.
A deep-rooted, family-based community, the camp will sorely miss him, and will struggle passionately with comprehending and reconciling his loss for a long time.
For me personally, his murder has brought what is going on in Israel crashing far closer to home. I have felt so desensitised recently by the way our media streams have been reporting recent tragedies that I must admit the numbers of dead were eventually only numbers to me.
Ezra was someone I knew, a tangible identity. He was a standout leader from a fantastic summer camp, who was tragically caught in the crossfire through being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
His death has reinforced my understanding that when something happens in Israel, it happens to all of us.
It is with both sadness and pride that I feel that as a community we in the UK simply cannot switch off to what is happening in Israel any more.
As a result, my resolve towards my own work in the Jewish community and towards positive social change in Israel has been increased.
I work at the New Israel Fund (NIF), where my role is to foster and develop a community of young adults, connecting them to projects, causes and organisations in Israel that are working towardspeace, equality, justice, and human rights for all.
In response to the latest outbreak of violence in Israel, NIF set up an emergency fund, through which grants have been allocated to dozens of coexistence initiatives and meeting spaces for dialogue between Jews and Arabs, as well as enabling various rallies and events calling for tolerance and for a political solution to theconflict.
Connecting ourselves to this positive, grassroots work within Israeli society is the only response to the extremism such as that which killed Ezra.
In the face of this violent outbreak, I have felt a real momentum towards engaging with these issues in our community.
For example, more than 80 young people recently attended NIF UK’s flagship event, the annual Human Rights Awards dinner, and we are now seeing many new initiatives that have sprung up from our community of young professionals, NIF’s ‘New Generations’: grassroots initiatives of individuals who want to raise awareness, deepen the discussion and use exciting and empowering new methods of fundraising in order to have an active role in this essential work.
There is no doubt that this is not a simple undertaking. The results of the kind of work NIF does in Israel are not always immediate. The challenges and choices it raises are hard. It will not bring back Ezra, or any of the victims of the recent violence.
But it will bring us closer, step by step, towards an Israel we can all be proud of. By doing so we can be proud of our work, as partners in the efforts of Israeli activists to uphold the true Jewish ideals of peace, justice and equality for all.
May Ezra’s memory be a blessing and may his character and spirit inspire all the community as he has inspired me.