I’ve been to Israel more than 40 times. One tough part of the pandemic was being distanced from places and people I love, so I’m excited by UJIA’s announcement that Israel Tour will return this summer.
Much has changed since my first visit in 1998, although one constant is an amazing opportunity to connect with community and begin a journey of personal discovery.
The really moving moments from that initial school visit came from being with old and new friends and being encouraged by my teachers and leaders.
In Jerusalem I appreciated the beautiful sound of a quietened city during Shabbat.
I was in awe of this small country’s changing landscape, abseiling by a machtesh in Mitzpe Ramon and splashing through the Jilabun.
We didn’t ignore the harrowing parts of our history. I can still see the reflections, too many to count, of one candle burning at Yad Vashem. We also didn’t ignore the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I remember feeling conflicted being British and Jewish when touring the Akko prison, where British soldiers had guarded those struggling for their people’s freedom.
Working at the New Israel Fund is the culmination of a lifetime personally and professionally inspired by my experiences in and relationship with Israel.
I discuss with global colleagues the distinct nature of the British Jewish community’s close and diverse relationship with Israel. A major part of that relationship is having half of our young people take up the opportunity to spend weeks in Israel with talented and dedicated leaders.
My hope in writing this is to encourage every 16 and 17-year-old and their parents or carers to take up this opportunity.
So much communal life, well beyond parts related to Israel, is supported and delivered by those who have been on and led Israel Tour.
I am forever indebted to my parents for their emotional, practical and financial support, including when I moved away to study and as I married and set up home with my husband. However, when working out whether I could participate in Israel Tour, as a family, we needed – and were incredibly grateful to receive – bursaries from UJIA.
Professionally, confidentially and compassionately administered, this scheme awarded £1 million in the most recent five years of Tour, supporting more than 1,000 participants. UJIA has been doing this for decades. Israel Tour is open to all, regardless of financial situation or synagogue affiliation.
Young people can experience Israel with Orthodox youth groups Ezra, Sinai, C-Teens or Tribe, the progressive RSY-Netzer or LJY-Netzer, or a traditionally Jewish experience for modern Jews with Noam.
They can be inspired by religious Zionism with Bnei Akiva or socialist Zionism with Habonim Dror.
For those who prefer pluralism and peer-leadership, there is FZY and BBYO. There is also the adventure offered by JLGB.
Wonderful previous additions to Israel experiences include Maccabi GB’s Challenge Israel Tour for those with mild to moderate learning disabilities and a partnership between Norwood and Birthright in offering the 10-day Limitless programme.
As I hope shows in my support for UJIA and Tour, as chief executive of our community’s leading organisation defending democracy and human rights for all Israelis and Palestinians, Israel Tour is an opportunity open to all.
The return of Israel Tour this summer is integral to a diverse, thriving future of our community.