Harvey Bratt, UJIA Director of legacies
With the tragic events in Paris fresh in our hearts and minds, we are once again reminded of the realities of modern-day anti-Semitism and life’s fragility.
During the past few years, hundreds of Jewish families have fled France – some 7,000 people in 2014 – to seek a safe refuge elsewhere. For many, that place is Israel. We feel the repercussions of the acts of terror such as happened in Paris here in the UK.
Security has been increased in Jewish schools and synagogues and we are all being urged to be more vigilant. I speak to many parents and grandparents, including Holocaust survivors and their children, whose lives have been personally touched by anti-Semitism.
They are quite rightly saddened that their children and grandchildren may grow up witnessing fresh persecution. For young people, this can be a disillusioning and unsettling time to be Jewish.
I firmly believe the older generation has a vital role to play, particularly at times like this, to stand proud and defiant as they make their mark on their own Jewish stories and pass on their knowledge and reassurance to future generations.
We should be proud of the kaleidoscope of educational and social activities on offer for young Jews in the UK to engage them with Jewish life, but we must not forget to invest in deepening the engagement of all parts of our community. Education isn’t just for the young.
This is why UJIA is offering a legacy mission that will visit both Poland and Israel – a first for UK Jewish legacy missions. Many of our children and grandchildren have been offered this experience as part of their Jewish journey and now we are giving seniors the same chance.
In April, we will be taking a group to witness two momentous events in modern Jewish history, as we make the transition from the darkness of the Holocaust to the light of the birth of the State of Israel. In conjunction with March of the Living UK, UJIA has devised a three-day programme in Poland that will culminate with the March itself on Yom HaShoah.
Together with 8,000 others from around the world, participants will walk shoulder to shoulder the three kilometres from Auschwitz to Birkenau in a positive act of remembrance to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp. Mobility assistance will be provided where needed. March of the Living has had great success in recruiting young people and together we are offering parents and grandparents the same opportunity.
To pass on the mantle effectively, they must see, remember and educate. After Poland, the group will move from the Jewish people’s darkest era to the supreme achievement of Jewish statehood. Spending eight days in Israel, we will showcase the famous sights, from the ancient majesty of Jerusalem to the beauty of the Galil and the bustling metropolis of Tel Aviv. Moving from commemorating Yom HaShoah in Auschwitz to celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel embodies the modern Jewish experience, from calamity to liberation.
It is easy to take for granted our understanding and knowledge of these milestones in our story, but can we honestly say that our feelings on these matters are truly fresh? An experience such as this can help participants reflect and reconnect to Israel and their Judaism as they take responsibility and try to take their own families and friends from darkness to light. This is certainly valuable and important in terms of the Jewish people, for the validation of Judaism has always been dependent on family tradition and continuity.
In my opinion, seeing Israel first-hand is one of the most effective ways to create a lasting affinity not just with the country but with Jewish life in general. It reminds us that we have a homeland, albeit a complicated, challenging and unfinished place, for which we all have a responsibility.
The over-60s are the memory banks for the coming generations. Many remember the creation of Israel but could majorly benefit from reconnecting to the role Israel plays in the wider Jewish story. As the lynchpins of their families, they can pass on this love and give renewed impetus to a new generation of pioneers.
We all have the privilege of helping to write the next chapter of the Jewish story and to direct and inspire the young. Let’s not waste it.