When it comes to British politics, the youth of our population are largely overlooked. It seems that decision-makers forget that we too can have an opinion and a voice and thus it leads to many of us following along with this narrative, remaining silent until we can vote and then we do so for the most Jewish-friendly party, or so our parents tell us. Of course, there are many who do not turn such a blind eye but I am embarrassed to admit that up until a few weeks ago, this was certainly my stance; they don’t think I have an opinion so why should I bother forming one?
As soon as the tragic murder of George Floyd shook society, I realised that if anything was going to change my disinterest in politics, this is it. A pivotal moment for me was the interschool discussion held by North London Collegiate School’s Jewish Society on Wednesday 10 June, about the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Jewish response to it and our responsibility to fight for other minorities being persecuted. As well as my fellow NLCS students, participants over Zoom included members of Jewish Societies from Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ and Girls’ Schools, City of London Boys’ School, Watford Grammar and Brampton College as well as students from JFS.
Led by our chairperson, Ariella Grossbard, Year 12 students from all walks of life respectfully contributed to the fascinating discussion. To set the tone, we began by reading an excerpt of Chief Rabbi Mirvis’s statement in which he wrote that “we cannot stand idly by” and that it is insufficient for us to join in with a “superficial chorus of disapproval”; this in fact catalysed our decision to initiate the discussion as social media is full of Black Lives Matter posts and support but many struggle to do anything tangible or constructive about the terrible situation.
We thought that our discussion should not be limited to the confines of our school community, rather to Jewish sixth formers across the city. As Ariella says, “we are the generation at the forefront of this movement and we are the ones with the power to make a change; that is why these discussions are so important to be having with people our own age no matter their views. It is about education and making a change for the better and that comes from us.”
We went on to consider whether Jews as a minority have a responsibility to support ‘Black Lives Matter’, if comparisons can be drawn between antisemitism and racism in the UK and the treatment of black Jews within our communities globally. It was a truly extraordinary discussion in which every individual’s opinion was valued and considered and despite some controversial or unpopular viewpoints, we listened and learnt from one another.
Reflecting on the discussion, Tamara Schwarzmann, NLCS student, said, “whether we are fighting antisemitism or racism we are all fighting the same cause – that being discrimination. We are more powerful together.” As the granddaughters of Holocaust survivors, discrimination is something that weighs particularly heavy on both of our hearts and I think that as a nation who has faced endless, incessant persecution for generations, this is all too true and we have a responsibility to fight against injustice against anyone and anywhere.
A contentious issue which we came across was the Movement for Black Lives’ support of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) which seeks to demonize and delegitimise Israel. We queried the difference between supporting the BLM cause and the movement and whether by supporting the movement, people are in a sense condoning anti-Zionism, and potentially anti-Semitism. There is no doubt that there was unanimous support for the fact that black lives matter however, many of us felt uncomfortable with the idea of supporting a movement that goes against some of our core values.
Not only was the topic of our discussion of the utmost importance, however the fact that this discussion was held at all is something worth focussing on. As Isabelle said, “over the past few weeks it has been interesting to see the wide range of different responses to the Black Lives Matter movement from within the Jewish community. This meeting provided us with an excellent opportunity to both hear and understand different people’s opinions, and it was really an eye-opening two hours for me!” For all those who took part, the constructive conversation was enlightening, educating and an important one for the youth of our communities to participate in.
It must come down to the youth in two ways – passion about fixing society must be instilled in us, and change is down to us as the future of this nation and this country. We must be encouraged by our Jewish schools, shuls and families to take an interest in politics and wider societal issues; these are things that must reach us. Moreover, we need to be made aware and make ourselves aware that it starts now, it might be cliché but we truly are the future.
This discussion was part of the lifelong process of learning and educating myself and, seeing reactions of my peers and friends, I realised that in actuality, not all teenagers have been adhering to the aforementioned silent, neutral narrative. Why had I? Why had so many others? Something needs to change.