UJIA’s unique role in nurturing the next generation’s relationships with Israel
Author: Ronit Davis
After this summer at UJIA, I would re-name myself, Ronit “please fill out your feedback form” Davis. I talk about feedback forms a lot, probably too much, at the very least, to each tour and Birthright group I meet at a UJIA project. I am sure I sound more pleading than cool but I have developed a new found passion for feedback. The chanichim’s feedback has the power to determine the direction of UJIA’s engagement with young British Jews. It gives them a chance to say what they want to see and hear about in Israel. Their feedback is sometimes funny, sometimes serious but it doesn’t often surprise me, because as a 23-year-old British Jew I often have the same feedback myself.
Before I was telling other young, British Jews to fill in feedback for UJIA, I had the privilege of growing up as a beneficiary of this organization. It played an integral role in most of my formative experiences of Israel. I participated in a super Sunday telethon or two, volunteered at a UJIA annual dinner, my two month-long summer tours of Israel were both supported by the organization, and when I was leaving school (Immanuel College) UJIA empowered me to run the school’s first Israel-Education seminar for sixth formers. Not to mention UJIA’s connection with my years as a chanicha and madricha at NOAM.
Indeed, UJIA was central to my life in the UK but following my A-levels, I left the UK and lost my direct contact with the organization.
After a five-year hiatus, I proposed that I spend a summer interning for the organization and re-engaging with the British Jewish community. As a recent graduate of an International Relations and Communications degree, I was eager to tackle a hot topic for many of Diaspora Jewry – millennial engagement with Israel.
There is no time that engaging young Jews with Israel has been more necessary or pressing. Many young Jews have begun to question and analyse Israel in a way that hasn’t happened before. The truth is, our relationship with Zionism is more complex than that of our parents and grandparents. Traditional hasbara has become less and less effective and Jewish communities across the globe are looking for ways to satiate our ever-growing curiosity about the status-quo in the Middle East, in a way that will foster our Zionism and not alienate it.
In the UK, I believe that UJIA is at the forefront of these efforts. Uniquely, UJIA allows for Jews to interact with Israel in its entirety. It does not tell a story of only Israel’s strengths nor its flaws, but it allows the space for people to hug and wrestle with both. By doing so, each of us determines our own version of Israel and although varied, these versions can exist side by side. Engagement with Israel can exist across a spectrum and I see our role as the facilitators of these relationship not the determiners.
This summer I have had the privilege of meeting many young British Jews, both on Birthright and on Tour. I have talked with them about Israel and I have heard first-hand what their questions and concerns are. Not only has it given me an opportunity to reminisce about my own time on tour but it has truly given me a fuller picture of the priorities of young British Jews today. They are also my priorities, I am after all, one of them.
I have also been given the unique chance to explore the Galilee. From the Arab village of Shfaram to Acco, I have experienced more of Israel than I could have ever dreamed of. Although I probably spent the most time getting to know the Israeli public transport system, I have truly gained a greater appreciation for the other focus of this organization, transforming the North of Israel, through a plethora of fantastic programs.
This summer has opened my eyes to the inequality that exists in Israel, especially throughout the periphery. However, it has also shown me what a positive impact the British Jewish community has had on the communities most vulnerable. It has been an immense source of pride and satisfaction for me and should be for the entire community.
For decades, UJIA has connected the British community with Israel and today it provides British Jews the unique and special opportunity to learn about Israel through the different perspectives of its diverse population. It certainly has done so for me. For many years, this organization has fostered my relationship with Israel. It is a country I immensely love and one I will soon call home, so I am proud that some few years later I have been able to give back, albeit in a small way, to the mission of this organization.
This community’s relationship with Israel is unique and should be treasured but amongst the young population it is also becoming increasingly complex and fragile. UJIA, in the years to come, is tasked with the nurturing of these relationships much like it nurtured mine. It feels somewhat full circle, that I have the chance to be a part of this nurturing process. Every time I leave Israel, I dream of coming back. Next time I come back, I won’t be leaving my community behind, in fact they will be coming along for the ride. Tour groups and Birthright, I’ll be seeing you next summer.