By Daniel Reisel, Chair of the Yachad board
Sunday’s vote is to include Yachad on the Board of Deputies was a great moment for British Jewry. It showed that despite a fierce campaign against the organisation, fair representation and common sense ultimately prevailed. The decision to admit Yachad was momentous because Yachad has set out to tackle what is arguably one of the most controversial and taboo-laden subjects within Jewish communal discourse: how Jews around the world and especially in Britain should think and act vis-à-vis Israel.
That might go some way towards explaining why there was such a forceful campaign to try to keep Yachad out. Far from avoiding the conversation, we believe it is natural and right to sometimes ask questions about certain Israeli government policies. There are many ways to support Israel, including supporting Israeli civil society organisations that work to end Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
Care and concern for Israel’s future is exactly what energises us in our work to assist Israeli society in its striving towards equality and ethical resilience. Such a society would fulfil the Biblical call: “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land” (Deuteronomy 16:20).
Without a dedicated commitment to justice for all, Israel’s future tragically hangs in the balance. The vote also signalled a move towards a more inclusive community. Many deputies openly said that while they didn’t agree with everything Yachad stands for, Yachad’s voice should be heard.
They understood that you cannot dismiss the voices of those with different opinions who are often – though not exclusively – of a younger generation, by shutting them out. The vote on Sunday recognised that unity does not have to equal conformity.
As a community, we are stronger when we encourage mutually contradictory perspectives to co-exist. Arguably, it is this Talmudic tradition of sacred disagreement that has enabled the Jewish people to survive and thrive intellectually. The Talmud states that Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel was lost not due to lack of unity, but due to moral reticence on the part of the political leadership (Gittin 56) and because “Israel of that generation kept their faces looking toward the ground and did not reprove one another sufficiently” (Shabbat 119).
One of those who argued against Yachad’s inclusion at the Board of Deputies on the pages of this newspaper was Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet. We know that over time, like many others, his opinions have changed and developed, so we remain hopeful that he will yet value Yachad’s approach.
Two precedents come to mind.
Rabbi Schochet is the spiritual leader of a synagogue whose vice chairman is a woman, yet barely a decade ago, Rabbi Schochet opposed the inclusion of women on synagogue boards and as honorary officers.
Rabbi Schochet also displayed a welcome change of heart when he attended Limmud in 2010, after having opposed Limmud for a number of years.
As a previous Limmud programming chair, I was pleased to attend his session and learn with him. Learn from everyone, states the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (4:1).
Especially from those with whom you disagree. We hope that, in time, Rabbi Schochet will realise that we can all learn something from each other, and that even if he might disagree with some or even all of what Yachad has to say, it represents the direction in which many of the community are moving.
To attempt to exclude those with whom you disagree goes against the treasured Jewish tradition of vigorous, generative debate. In his column last week, Rabbi Schochet made numerous unfounded accusations against the organisation, yet he has never asked any questions to us, or checked what he believes are the facts.
We welcome Rabbi Schochet to engage in conversation with the staff, board and supporters of the organisation; to invite us to his community, engage us in debate and understand more about the work we do. Sunday’s decision was just the beginning.
As the prospect of renewed terror and unrest increases, it is now vital to have a grown-up conversation about Israel and what British Jews can do to help bring stability and security to the region.
Israel benefits from an informed and passionately engaged debate within its parliament, its civil society and across the global Jewish world.
Yachad will play its part in this conversation and we look forward to working with anyone who, like us, wants to participate in a principled and respectful debate about the future direction of the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.