Global study trips must return post Covid-19

The Ben Azzai trip visiting Tzedek’s partner organisation YEFL-Ghana to meet and learn from their young adult leaders in Tamale, Northern Ghana, December 2019.
  (Via Jewish News)
The Ben Azzai trip visiting Tzedek’s partner organisation YEFL-Ghana to meet and learn from their young adult leaders in Tamale, Northern Ghana, December 2019. (Via Jewish News)

As a community with a growing global influence and loud voice, British Jews have an obligation to act on global issues, while taking extreme care to maintain a highly ethical approach to this work.

As the UK Community Manager for OLAM, it is my job to challenge the UK Jewish community about our responsibility towards vulnerable non-Jewish communities around the world. OLAM welcomed the recent Board of Deputies Commission on Racial Inclusivity’s recommendation that ‘international development should be an advocacy priority for communal bodies’.

That this Commission took place at all speaks to some of the unique aspects of the UK Jewish community, which are critical to OLAM’s work – That British Jews continue to grapple with our collective history of colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade, and the commonwealth from which we all benefit as UK citizens; That we are arguably the most globally minded Jewish community in the Diaspora, as demonstrated by the wealth of activities relating to global issues (such as refugees, the climate crisis, and vaccine equity) that routinely take place and receive exposure; That we have the most interconnected and democratic leadership structure of all Diaspora communities, allowing for the (relatively) easy rollout of community-wide initiatives and for the ability to regularly represent a diverse multiplicity of viewpoints, led in no small part by the Board of Deputies.

These unique characteristics make many programmes developed by OLAM partners relevant, including The Chief Rabbi’s Ben Azzai Programme, run in partnership with Tzedek. The programme, which was the focus of a chapter on study trips in an international development context in the Commission’s report, should be lauded for identifying and attempting to fill in gaps in educational opportunities for young Orthodox Jews, particularly those related to colonial history, intercultural experiences, and global citizenship. (This gap was discussed in another chapter of the report.) OLAM, a network of more than 50 Jewish & Israeli organisations working in international development, humanitarian aid, and global service, acts as a consultant to the programme, utilising our sector-wide vantage point to provide strategic advice on achieving the programme’s aims.

Ben Azzai participants meet project participants of Tzedek partner SUGLO, who help them with developing skills to bolster their livelihoods (Via Jewish News)

Unfortunately, the Commission heard testimony only about the Ben Azzai programme, which somewhat limited its capacity for drawing overarching conclusions about the field, as Commission Chair Stephen Bush acknowledged. Therefore, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight two areas of great importance: the increasing impact of the study and volunteering programmes in the international development context, and the ongoing work of OLAM and its partner organisations to improve ethical best practices in this arena.

Recent study and volunteering programmes in our community with similar aims to Ben Azzai include Tribe & FZY’s recent trips to Ghana in partnership with Tzedek, FZY’s year-course partnership with the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, JDC Entwine’s year-long Global Jewish Service Corps Fellowship placements in India & Rwanda, Step Up’s work in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Uganda, World Jewish Relief’s Genesis Fellowship Programme, and OLAM’s own Impact Fellowship and InterAct Global programmes. Many British Jews have also participated in non-UK programmes, including Tevel B’Tzedek, Project Ten, and Glocal.

Ben Azzai participants learning from Tzedek’s partner organisation Empowerment For Life in the village of Kpaligun, northern Ghana. (Via Jewish News)

These programmes provide participants with important intercultural experiences they cannot gain in most Israel-based programming. But they also offer so much more. Field-based experiences of international development and humanitarian aid build soft skills in areas like intercultural humility, competence, and adaptation that are critical to thriving in our increasingly interconnected world. At the same time, these programmes provide a unique lens through which to view and develop a complex and deep Jewish identity. Indeed, a significant proportion of established and emerging UK Jewish leadership has participated in these programmes in recent years.

Yet there is still huge room for wider engagement in this area. As such, I would encourage our community to consider the positive impact of our future leaders having a better understanding of our collective global social responsibility. Once we realize that, the urgency of sending our youth on programmes such as Ben Azzai will become clear.

This is also a great opportunity to acknowledge the Commission’s comments about the international development sector sometimes portraying a ‘paternalistic and reductive character in relation to Africa & Africans’. It should be noted that all of the aforementioned programmes grapple with the issue of how to conduct themselves equitably and responsibly, in relation to the local communities with whom they work. That said, OLAM recognises that its partner organisations, and the study trips and volunteering programmes they run, operate within a wide range of cultural, social, economic, and geographic situations. Each one is at a different point on a continuum of best practices in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism, and some tackle these issues better than others. Thus, we fully support the Commission’s recommendations regarding improving study trips in an international development context. In fact, several of our partner organisations have turned to us over the past few years, to help them deepen ethical best practices, in line with international standards in global service, international development, and humanitarian aid. We are available to provide further consultation to any programme that wishes to implement the Commission’s recommendations.

OLAM’s experience in this area is rich: We have convened an ad hoc steering committee and launched a webinar series entitled, “Do No Harm”. We created our own ethical communications policy and shared it with our partners, as a model for them to adapt and adopt. Inspired by the recent awakening around issues of racial justice from which the Commission was born, we convened several conversations about the role of saviourism, privilege, and power dynamics in our field. As a result of these efforts, we have made a strategic commitment over the next three years to take this work to the next level and further enable our partners to move along the continuum of introspection and improvement. This will include self-assessment tools, pieces of training, and microgrants, as well as a commitment to ensuring diversity among speakers at our events.

I sincerely hope that many of the aforementioned programmes will return in the coming year in a new format that takes into account the restrictions of the pandemic. It is abundantly clear how much they positively impact our community. As our community and our world reopen, we invite the UK Jewish community to tap into the expertise available within OLAM’s and to join us in the important task of partnering with, lifting up, and learning from non-Jewish communities across the globe.

If you would like to partner with and get a consultation from OLAM or get more information about the other programmes listed in this piece, please contact Graham at graham@olamtogether.org.

About the Author
Graham works for OLAM & JDC Entwine as the UK Community Manager and sits as an executive board member for the World Union for Progressive Judaism. He grew up leading in LJY-Netzer has held various programming roles at Limmud Festival. In 2018 was named in the Jewish News 30 under 30 list of “individuals set to define Jewish life in Britain for decades to come”.
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