OPINION: A summer of inspiration despite lockdown

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OPINION: A summer of inspiration despite lockdown

CEO of UJIA, Mandie Winston, reflects on the way the charity has kept young people engaged with Israel during the pandemic

Mandie Winston
Participants making hummus at the Gesher School Kodesh Enrichment Week - A Sensory Shabbat and Israel Experience, one of over 25 summer programmes backed by UJIA.
Participants making hummus at the Gesher School Kodesh Enrichment Week - A Sensory Shabbat and Israel Experience, one of over 25 summer programmes backed by UJIA.

COVID-19 has affected everyone in our community and across society. In terms of disruption to their lives and missing out on seminal experiences, young people have been hit particularly hard. Time off school may have been welcome at first, but after four months at home, with disruption to exams and cancellations of activities, the novelty has worn thin.

Then came the heart-breaking realisation that summer camps and Israel Tour – the highlight of the year for many of our youngsters – would have to be cancelled. The biggest cohort of 16 year olds due to go on UJIA backed Israel Tours in 10 years wouldn’t now be touching down at Ben Gurion Airport. The many more young people who attend the summer camps of our brilliant youth movements and organisations won’t be spending formative moments in fields or boarding school dormitories as they learn about Israel and their Jewish identities away from mum and dad.

UJIA made a commitment to our community and to them that we would not let this be a forgotten summer or allow them to be the generation who missed out. Among other things, we pledged £100,000 for innovative alternative projects to ensure that our youth could still enjoy a meaningful summer of Jewish informal education, fun and Israel engagement.

Mandie Winston is CEO of UJIA

We invited applications for grants of up to £10,000 for activities aimed at 16 year olds who would have gone on Israel Tour, activities aimed at other school-aged children and for intergenerational activities that engage parents and grandparents as well as young people. The response has been overwhelming and more than 25 UJIA-backed programmes will now be taking place this summer as a result.

The challenges of adapting to social distancing have been met with innovative programmes catering for a wide cross section of Jewish youth from around the UK. Many programmes have an online dimension and others have creatively adopted social distancing measures in order to provide some in-person connection. They might not be able to visit Israel, but we’re bringing Israel to them.

StandWithUs’s Jerusalem Live, for example, provides virtual tours of Israel’s capital and an opportunity to send notes for posting in the Kotel. UK Jewish Film is offering a deep dive into the Israeli film industry through the opportunity to watch Israeli movies and learn from industry professionals. Gesher School and Langdon Brady are offering programmes for children with special needs and learning disabilities. In Glasgow, UJIA funded the community’s “camp at home” – engaging almost 90 young people. And these are only a few examples. Across the Jewish religious and cultural spectrum, our youth movements and synagogues are providing fun, enriching and educational programmes infused with experiencing Israel.

We are truly inspired by how these programmes have adapted to the current reality – and, when we are again able to run and support more conventional tours and camps, I have no doubt they will be enhanced by the flexibility and ingenuity we are seeing this summer. Together we are giving young people the inspiring, memorable and formative Israel and Jewish experiences essential for the future of our community.

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