Becoming chairman of UJIA in the year Israel celebrates 70 years of independence gives me a huge sense of pride and purpose. As the leading charity for Israel in the UK, the approaching milestone gives us the opportunity to look closely at what has been, and then focus our attention on what the next 70 years might look like.
In Jewish News two weeks ago, Alex Brummer wrote: “Israel’s increasing prosperity and leadership in technology makes general financial support, through organisations such as the UJIA, less popular.”
In fact, UJIA continues to raise £10million every year to invest in connecting our community to Israel, and building a stronger society in Israel through educational and work opportunities to those most in need.
However, I’m not going to blithely dismiss the nub of what was said in the column; times have indeed changed. Israel has changed. Our relationship with Israel has changed.
Over the seven decades of her existence, Israel has, without a doubt, transformed herself; in particular, from a fledgling entity fighting for life to an established country whose GDP is ranked approximately 20th in the world, placing her in the richest 10 per cent of nations. This is a phenomenal achievement, which indeed Alex notes. When diaspora communities are exposed to so many news stories about Israel leading the car technology revolution or creating robotic exoskeletons to help paralysed veterans walk again, perhaps it has become all too easy to say, “Israel can take care of herself.”
And yet, as we learn from Professor Dan Ben-David at the Shoresh Institution, Israel continues to struggle with low rates of employment, poor academic achievement and huge gaps between rich and poor. As diaspora Jews, we can either look away, or acknowledge our responsibility to work with Israelis to help secure the future of our only Jewish state.
All these changes over 70 tumultuous years lead inevitably to the point at which our relationship with Israel has changed. In reference to the younger generation on whom the future depends, the UK can be immensely proud of the leaders we produce. The Jewish News’s 30 Under 30 and 18 Under 18, many of whom have been nurtured by UJIA funded programmes, are a credit to our community.
Crucially, British Jews in their twenties have no memory of Israel truly fearing for her existence. Many have grown up with the perception of Israel as a formidable actor in a complex web involving more vulnerable groups. Understandably, their attention is drawn to a wide range of important social action initiatives in the UK and around the developing world.
The challenge is reaching the necessary numbers from this cohort to help secure Israel’s and our future. We need to reignite the notion that Israel needs us and we need Israel.
If we do not take this seriously, I believe the community will come adrift.
Jonathan Boyd, of JPR, recently raised the fact that the Jewish community for a long time relied heavily on the baby boomers (aged 70-74) and that “their ageing and eventual passing will have very important financial implications for the British Jewish charitable sector”. Without engaging a new generation, we cannot continue to support 13 Zionist Youth Movements, UJS and the raft of other vital programming UJIA provides to connect our community to Israel.
To achieve this, UJIA needs to adapt to meet the needs of those we serve. As such, we are evolving to ensure that we are offering the most relevant and attractive opportunities to engage with Israel, reaching British Jews of different ages and backgrounds, especially young people.
I am confident that by 2020, when UJIA celebrates its centenary, we will have evolved our working practices and made ourselves future-ready. I look forward to this journey.