OPINION: We can’t wait to be handed the reins of the community, so we’re grabbing them

OPINION: We can’t wait to be handed the reins of the community, so we’re grabbing them

By Rhea Wolfson, New Israel Fund 

Rhea Wolfson

A couple of weeks ago, I was named as one of the 25 under 25 by Jewish News – a source of pride and a little bit of mockery from my peers. The tagline of the 25 was those who are ‘set to define Anglo-Jewry in the decades to come.’ That is a pretty huge amount of responsibility for a Glasgow girl who learnt her batmitzvah portion from a cassette tape.

I remember when I was 13 and just starting to get involved in the Jewish community; I didn’t know the prayers, I couldn’t keep up with the lingo and I longed to move the family to the mysterious ‘Golders’.

But, 11 years later, I’ve learned the tunes, and taught them many times. I’ve been Mazkira of the youth movement whose winter camp I was so scared to go on. I’ve become a thoroughly Jewish professional.

But it isn’t all it seems. After graduating from my youth movement, and having moved away from my family and childhood synagogue, I no longer had an outlet for my Judaism. I had, within RSY-Netzer, found a group of like-minded, socially conscious young Jews, with whom I could debate and act on our values. But outside of that, I had no such community.

RSY-Netzer is where I first learned that young people can contribute to and change society – both in the UK and beyond and I am so grateful for that. In 2013, I finally got around to getting back on the doorstep with the Labour Party and in that, I found my new community.

The Labour Party is where I have been able to continue that activism journey – but I wish that I didn’t have to look outside the Jewish community to feel like I can make change.

But last week, with the phrase ‘set to define Anglo-Jewry in the decades to come’ ringing in my ears, I started to reflect on what that meant to me. I would love to define Anglo-Jewry now and in decades to come. But where is my place? And how much power do I really have? How do I marry my activism with my Judaism?

Well, of course, the natural answer to that question is: Israel. Israel and Zionism form a huge part of our identity as British Jews, for good and for bad, but I think that we are at a very uncomfortable junction in our Zionist-Jewish journey. After the elections, many of us paused to reflect. The results were not as bad as it initially appeared but, nonetheless, it was not the ‘left’ breakthrough a lot of us were hoping for.

Not just hoping for, but desperately needing.

The result reinforced the question in my mind: Where is my place in the Israel conversation? Where is my place in the conversation that is happening in our community? Jewish communal leadership certainly does not represent my values in its Israel conversation and I am far from an exception.

We cannot continue like this. I’ve been privileged to sit on such bodies as the Jewish Leadership Council to try to champion the causes of young people with progressive views on Israel and Judaism, but I can’t say I’ve made much headway in these formal settings. It appears to me that grassroots movements are how we will make real change in the community.

Luckily, from all this frustration comes a series of groups and movements aimed at giving young people an outlet for their passion.

The New Israel Fund is currently building its ‘New Generations’ young activists community. Those of us who passionately care about the future of the UK Jewish community know that we can’t wait to be handed change by those at the ‘top’ so we are creating our own change.

In fact, NIF New Gen has just launched its first Activism Fellowship; a programme that is about building the future of progressive leadership in our community. It is about giving young people the tools, knowledge and skills to shape their community to reflect their values.

We need this programme and initiatives like it to make sure that we are amplifying the voices of young Jews with progressive values because we cannot continue as we are.

I’m at a crossroads, but without the NIF and movements like it, I would already be gone.

• The NIF New Gen Activism Fellowship is a 10 month UK-based programme designed to fit around full-time work or study. For more information see www.newisraelfund.org.uk Applications close on 30 April.

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