Producer of BBC series on British Jews felt ‘huge obligation to get it right’
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Producer of BBC series on British Jews felt ‘huge obligation to get it right’

Lucie Kon felt 'passionately' about making the series as she reflects on her search to find a balance of people to reflect the 'plurality of voices' of British Jewry

Participants on the BBC series on British Jews. (L-R) Simon, Lilly, Ella, Damon, Joseph, Alan and Emma, on the Aish balcony overlooking the Western Wall, Israel.  (Image Credit: BC/Lion TV/Strahila Royachka. Photographer: Strahila Royachka)
Participants on the BBC series on British Jews. (L-R) Simon, Lilly, Ella, Damon, Joseph, Alan and Emma, on the Aish balcony overlooking the Western Wall, Israel. (Image Credit: BC/Lion TV/Strahila Royachka. Photographer: Strahila Royachka)

The producer of a new two-part BBC Two series about the attitudes of British Jews to anti-Semitism and Israel which airs on Tuesday and Wednesday has described how she felt “a huge obligation to get it right”.

Lucie Kon, herself a British Jew, said she “felt passionately about making the series” but that it took several months to find eight Jews who reflected “the plurality of voices in the British Jewish community”.

With a broad range of opinions, beliefs and practices, the group goes to Israel, on “a journey to explore what it means to be Jewish in Britain today and examine some of the most pressing questions and challenges facing the Jewish community at home and in Israel”.

In the first episode, airing on Tuesday, the group meet in Manchester to hear from the Community Security Trust (CST) to explore what anti-Semitism looks and feels like in modern Britain and reflect on how perceptions of Israel affect them.

Participants arriving on first day, Manchester. (L-R) Joseph, Alan, Emma, Damon, Lilly, Sylvia, Ella and Simon (Image Credit: BC/Lion TV/Strahila Royachka. Photographer: Strahila Royachka)

They meet the owner of a local kosher restaurant that was attacked by arsonists last year, talk to Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman and meet Jewish students who say they need security for Israel events on campus.

The group then travels to Israel, and to a Kibbutz, where different views on the IDF are shared, before heading to the West Bank and to Efrat, a settlement, where they meet a settler who explains why he thinks this is just a regular town.

In Hebron, the group meets a spokesman for Jewish settlers and a Jewish activist whose father was murdered by a Palestinian, plus a Palestinian activist and a Palestinian farmer living near Hebron who says his land was bulldozed by Israelis.

Participants standing on the steps at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. (L-R) Joseph, Emma, Simon, Alan, Damon, Ella and Lilly (Image Credit: BC/Lion TV/Strahila Royachka. Photographer: Strahila Royachka)

The trip concludes in Jerusalem, where they visit the Western Wall, and later meet two fathers – a Palestinian and an Israeli – who have both lost young daughters to the conflict and are now working together for peace.

Over the two-part series, several group members are shown walking out of talks by Palestinians, because they disagree with what they hear. One 28-year old British Jewish woman made aliyah after filming finished.

The British Jewish group encompasses a mix of political views, and includes a young woman who spent time volunteering at Palestinian refugee camps, who says: “When I hear the word Israel I instantly feel uncomfortable because I’m so invested in human rights.”

Another participant is a 58-year old Jewish man from Plymouth, an ardent supporter of Israel who had never been to Israel before the trip. He describes it as “like going to meet the woman I’m in love with who I’ve never met before”.

Sylvia. (Image Credit:BBC/Lion TV/Peter Gordon. Photographer: Peter Gordon)

Sylvia, an Orthodox Jewish grandmother and semi-retired kosher caterer, had to leave the group and return to London before the Israel trip, after she received news of the sudden death of her younger sister.

Reflecting on the experience, she said the most surprising aspect was “the happy discovery that we all seemed to like each other as people in spite of our differing opinions on the politics existing in and surrounding Israel,” adding: “That is the essence of being Jewish. We are all connected, even if we agree to disagree.”

Lucie Kon

Kon consulted widely in the planning stages, advised by JW3 boss Raymond Simonson, Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks, Jewish blogger Robert Cohen, Rabbi Nicky Liss of Highgate Synagogue and UJIA programme director Sally Halon.

She said the biggest challenge was editing the material down to two hours, “as the story of anti-Semitism in Britain was creeping higher up the news agenda”.

She added: “This has been a really important and meaningful project to be involved with, and one we all felt a huge obligation to get right. I hope that whatever perspective viewers come at it from, they will come away with the realisation that the British Jewish community, whilst thriving, has a host of challenges to grapple with.”

  • We Are British Jews airs on BBC 2, 9pm, next Tuesday and Wednesday, 4-5 September.

View the trailer for the series here:

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