Abi Taylor-Abt

The Repeating Lessons of our Past and Present

Originally born in London, England, I moved to Israel at the tender age of 14. I finished my education in an English program and although I still speak Hebrew with an interesting accent, moving here during my formative years has been the single most impressionable experience of my life. I am an Israeli who doesn’t sound like one. I sound English but having missed out on Secondary School, University and the club scene of London teenagers, don’t totally understand the culture. I have been incredibly lucky in life, I have travelled, lived on four continents and gained something from each of them.

I left South Africa in 1989 when I was pregnant with my eldest son. As my in-laws remained in Johannesburg, we returned for a visit every year and observed as the political climate slowly but inexorably changed. We were amongst the first of our friends to leave and although to us the changes on the street were blatantly obvious, our friends seemed completely oblivious to what was going on around them. As a Jew, I was surprised when one of my co-workers told me that one of her best friends was Jewish. I was shocked however, when I jokingly replied that one of my best friends was Christian and she was completely offended.

In 1991 I sat in my sealed room on a hilltop just outside Jerusalem. Along with many other Israeli’s, I forgot that first time to take the plug out of my gas mask and when I couldn’t breathe, wondered if Saddam had actually managed to gas us as he was threatening. Luckily, I took out the plug before any significant damage was done to my body, however mentally I found myself struggling to understand how a strip of duck tape over the door was going to save me and my 1 year old son from chemical rockets.

1995 I was back in London having a perfectly innocuous conversation across a shabbat lunch table, whilst in Israel they were in the midst of the second Intifada. As another upstanding member of the Northwest London Jewish Community explained why they would go to Israel if there was a war, I looked on in disbelief thinking that they didn’t have a clue. It’s so easy to make an impressive throwaway comment when you don’t understand the ramifications of what you are proposing.

I spent three years in the States in a wonderful community yet was amazed at how little people really knew about Israel. No, there aren’t camels in the streets, no, we don’t all live in substandard overcrowded buildings and yes, the water is safe to drink. I found myself, twenty years an educator, teaching that Israel is a modern reality and Jews are just like you and I. One of the most popular classes I taught to my teen group was that media manipulation is very real and our modern day idols of materialism and money influence us to our core.

I have been honored to meet and listen to many Holocaust survivors over the years, however the last of the kindertransport children are fading, and as an educator I worry that we are becoming too far removed from our ever-repeating history. Anti-zionism is barely disguised anti-semitism and anti-semitism ensures that we will always need our home in Israel.

Just as the famous frog in global warming taught us, you need to be aware of your surroundings. In February this year Belgian Jews were asked to get off a train at Auschwitz and take a short shower whilst in May there was a shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. An anti-semitic tweet was shared over 18000 times in Spain and in June the political party Golden Dawn sang neo-Nazi songs along with the salute and swastika flags in Rhodes. Last week in England there was a cartoon in The Independent newspaper that was blatantly anti-Israel and this week in Paris a mob laid siege to a synagogue effectively trapping over 200 congregants.

Three Jewish boys were kidnapped and killed and to the horror of the vast majority of Israelis and Jews worldwide, this was followed by the revenge killing of an Arab teenage boy. A young Jewish woman Shelly Dadon was murdered by an Israeli Arab taxi driver on her way to a job interview and suddenly we are back. Fighting a war that isn’t a war. An operation where hundreds of rockets are raining down on our cities. 

There are no innocents in war. Despite being biased and patriotic I don’t presume for a moment to believe all is black and white. Our government has it’s issues as do most governments and our politicians have their share of dishonor. Our soldiers do their best whilst mistakes are made, the hated phrase disproportionate force is bandied around. Yet as I sit here, stressed and tense, wondering when the next siren will go off, I have never been so sure of anything in my life as this. Israel is where I belong. Israel is where I need to be. Israel is where I want to be.

About the Author
Abi Taylor-Abt is an outstanding Jewish Educator and Curriculum Developer who has worked in the field of Jewish Primary and Secondary Educational Curriculum Development for over twenty years. She is the author of Lessons in Jewish Learning - a grab and go curriculum for communities and Jewish schools. Originally from London, Abi spent time living in Israel, South Africa, England and the United States. After working in Boise, Idaho, Abi spent 5 years in Israel for the second time whilst her children served in the army. She is currently Director of Education for Yachad a combined educational endeavour between the conservative congregation of Beth Shalom and the reform community of Temple Emanu-El in Michigan, USA. A 2018 recipient of the Klein/Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Abi is also awaiting the video version of her recent ELI Talk Detroit Speaker Fellowship.