This week, UJIA Israel Experience took the painful decision to cancel this summer’s Israel Tours. In the current circumstances, and with no certainty as to when normality will return, the decision had become inevitable. To safeguard both the welfare of our participants and their parents’ financial commitments, we felt we needed to communicate it now.
Together with our operational partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel, UJIA has been supporting youth movements in bringing British Jewish 16-year-olds to Israel for over 40 years. Even in the face of war and terror the tour programme could be adapted to give young British Jews an inspirational, enriching and above all safe Israel experience. In the Second Intifada, and during wars with Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2014 careful changes to the itinerary made sure Israel Tour went ahead. But with the invisible enemy of Coronavirus, that just isn’t possible.
Over 1230 participants signed up for Israel Tour this summer, with numbers set to be higher than at any time since 2010. We are determined that while those teenagers might be missing out this summer, they will not miss out on the often life-changing opportunities Tour provides to connect with Israel, strengthen Jewish identity and develop leadership skills.
I have never been prouder of our community than in seeing its response to the Coronavirus crisis. For so many of the leaders, staff and volunteers galvanising that response, Israel Tour was a vital step in their journey to Jewish leadership. One day, it will be the current year group of 16-year-olds who we will need to take up that mantle of leadership.
We want to make a commitment to them and to the community. Firstly, we are exploring with our partners and the youth movements alternative options to give the school year missing out this summer an inspirational Israel experience at a future date. Circumstances are hard to predict, but UJIA will do everything within our power to make that happen. Secondly, UJIA is committed to nurturing and supporting the Jewish youth movements and organisations to ensure that despite the obstacles of this pandemic, we are able to adapt. Even at this time, our young people need opportunities to develop their leadership skills and their own sense of connection to their community, to Israel and to the Jewish people.
The youth movements provide young people with an invaluable support network. Throughout Jewish history, when facing our biggest challenges, it is our youth who have stepped up and shown leadership. We will be striving to harness technology, to connect young people to each other and to Israel and to empower them to recognise their potential value to our community and society. With the right support, I know that this generation can produce some of the most innovative, creative and resilient leaders our community has known.
They might be missing out on Israel Tour – for now – but UJIA will always strive to strengthen their connection and commitment to Israel and the Jewish people. As a community, our connection to Israel makes us stronger. We now need to find new ways to connect with Israel at a time when flights to Ben Gurion are not an option. And we need to support British Jewish youth to make sure that far from being a generation who “missed out”, they become the generation best placed to harness their formative experience of these difficult times to face the leadership challenges of the future.
Louise Jacobs is the Chairman of UJIA