Simon Levy

The Diaspora disconnect

For just 1,500 people to turn out to an important rally for Israel is a disgrace, and the inaction of Jewish communal organisations is partly to blame

In response to the large anti-Israel demonstration that took place in central London on Saturday, attended by almost 20,000 people, the Zionist Federation of the UK organised a pro-Israel rally yesterday. In contrast to the last large pro-Israel rally in London, which occurred during the Second Intifada, the numbers were very low, failing to even reach 2,000 individuals.

As reported in these pages by Jennifer Lipman, various excuses have been provided by the Jewish community for this, such as many youngsters being in Israel on their post-GCSE tour, and the short time that was available to organise the event. Nonetheless, for a community that numbers over 250,000, a turnout of less than 2,000 should trigger a response, although I doubt one will be forthcoming from the UK community.

1,500, the number that the police estimate attended the rally, needs to be placed in a communal context:

  • Around 200,000 Jews live in London, thus the figure that attended represents less than 1% of the London Jewish population.
  • Every summer, including this one, around 1,500 16-year-olds are visiting Israel on organised summer tours. Even if we assume that each family has only 2 children, and around 10% are single parent units, this would equate to approximately 4,350 close family members who currently have a child in Israel.
  • In 2008, over 26,000 Jewish children were attending Jewish schools, and with extra places opening in the subsequent half-decade, this will now be close to 30,000 students.

The point of these figures is to place into context just how small 1,500 people are within the Jewish community of the UK.

So questions need to be asked, and there are no easy answers.

  1. Earlier this year, the Chief Rabbi led a mission of United Synagogue rabbonim to Israel, in order to re-engage the rabbanut with the Promised Land. How many of them attended the rally yesterday? How many shuls organised a coach or travel so that their members could attend? How many shuls are making the effort to forge a closer connection with Israel, by arranging Israel based educators to visit and speak? How many shuls have an Israel education program?
  2. Mainstream Orthodox Jewish schools have seen a recent surge in numbers and interest. How many Jewish schools organised a presence at the rally? On the subject of Jewish schools, the UK Jewish community is very quick to congratulate itself on having attracted many more students to its schools, but what is the state of the Israel education within these institutions? Most are now sending their 14-year-olds on a 3 weeks long trip to Israel, but how many are taking the opportunity to run a parallel educational program in the UK for the parents? How many of these students have access to continual follow-up when they return to the UK after this trip? How many of them understand that Israel is far more than a geographical location, and have access to a Jewish curriculum that gives them the depth of understanding as to the central place of Israel in Judaism?
  3. Over 1,000 youngsters attend UK based camps every summer with youth organisations. What is the state of the Israel education in these movements, if fewer than 2,000 people voluntarily choose to attend a rally?
  4. There are a number of communal organisations in the UK, most of whom spend an inordinate amount of time jostling for position. Kudos to the ZF for arranging the rally, but where are the collective efforts from other organisations to focus on strengthening Israel education across the community, rather than sending missions to Israel? How many of the council members/trustees from UJIA/the JLC/the Board of Deputies/United Synagogue were there yesterday? I would demand that each of these organisations publish a list of those who did attend, and those who did not.

In short, for such a paltry number of people to turn out to an important rally is a disgrace. And while individuals have to take personal responsibility for non-attendance, the inaction of Jewish communal organisations is equally to blame.

About the Author
Before making aliya, Simon worked in many roles within Jewish Education in the UK, including as the National Director of Bnei Akiva UK, teaching Jewish Studies and heading Mizrachi UK. In Israel, he has continued in the world of education, including as the Director of Education for Lavi Olami, an educational consultant for the National Library of Israel and Director of Educational Projects for the Shabbat Project. He writes in a personal capacity.