Life under the Covid-19 crisis in the last few weeks forced all of us to constantly adapt to a changing reality. As an educator, who, in a coronavirus free world, spends her days travelling across the UK and Israel, the new reality presented me with serious and deep questions about my entire mission. Is it even possible to build meaningful relationships between young people and educate about Israel while we are all confined to our homes? Young British Jews demonstrated this week that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
I would argue that the role of Israel Education during this disquieting time is more important than ever. Israel is not just a geographical or religious place, it’s one of our community’s most important centres of gravity. Many of the young Jews who I work with have grown up with Israel as part of their lives – they might have family or friends living there, they might be part of a Zionism youth movement and gone on trips to Israel, they might have learnt about and engaged with Israel at their synagogue or school. Our community comes together every year to commemorate Yom HaZikaron, party to Israeli music, enjoy Israeli food, and experience a life-changing summer trip as young people on Israel tour.
The fact that we are physically isolated right now does not diminish the role of community in our lives – it makes it even more vital.
Since the threat of lockdown began, we at Yachad have been asking ourselves some questions: how can we ensure that young people are still able to engage with and learn about Israel? How can young British Jews remain part of a community which cares both about Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and human rights?
In an attempt to answer these questions, this week we launched our first Yachad Youth webinar series called ‘Youth Against the Occupation,’ with over thirty participants. Our first speaker was a young Palestinian activist who spoke about how Palestinians living under blockade and occupation are somewhat used to being unable to leave their homes and having their movements restricted. Living under a coronavirus lockdown that relies on voluntary compliance for a few weeks is nothing like living under a 53-year old military occupation. Yet, there was a lot to learn from our speaker’s personal experience of having their community, education and ability to work frequently disrupted.
At Yachad, we want to do everything we can to ensure community spaces can continue to thrive. We have been making the most of the wonder that is Zoom to create online programming that brings our community together and opens up conversations with Israelis and Palestinians on the ground in the region. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be continuing with the ‘Youth Against the Occupation’ series, as well as launching other programmes for young people including reading groups and webinar series addressing ‘Women and Activism,’ and ‘Jewish-Arab alliances.’
We don’t know when and how the corona crisis will end, but one thing we know for sure is that when it ends, Israel will still be there, and so will our community. It is our job to ensure that in this strange reality, young people still have a community space to discuss and learn together about Israel.