Your next big idea, please
The Bronfman Foundation is holding a contest to find innovations that will ‘transform the way the Jewish community thinks about itself’. Here, five contributors offer their own ideas that would make a difference
Encourage Jews to move to the UK
“SO YOU’RE from France?” goes the question at Shabbat tables in London. “Let me guess: you work in finance.” London is now the fourth-largest French-speaking city in the world, and British Jewry has been affected too. But these days the guests are as likely to come from Moscow, Munich or Madrid as Manchester.
The push factor of antisemitism and the pull factor of economic opportunity have resulted in thousands of Jews coming to the UK in recent years. A recent report from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research showed that almost one in five Jews in the UK was born elsewhere, with most coming from Israel, the United States and South Africa.
We should welcome this trend. The Jewish population in Britain has been in decline since the war. The new waves of immigration can boost numbers.
But the influx can also bring new vitality, creativity and energy to our community, if we know how to harness it. Jews from other countries import ideas and customs which can enrich British Jewish life. They are invariably high-skilled and welleducated.
More broadly, the community leadership needs to think about our strategy towards migration. Just as Israel advertises for people going on aliyah, should British Jewry campaign internationally for new arrivals? Clearly the UK’s location, economy and relatively benign environment mean that we have all the ingredients to continue to attract Jews in significant numbers.
The Catholic community, incidentally, has been swollen by the influx of adherents from Eastern Europe, and might soon become the largest religious group in Britain. Migration is not only changing the face of Britain, but also the internal dynamics of its faith communities. Zaki Cooper is the director of Business for New Europe
Stop focusing somuchon the synagogue
THE MAJORITY of people who proudly identify as Jews seem to have no time for synagogues. So the first thing is to invent more ways of being Jewish without any compulsion to enter synagogues, without “having” to do anything. The Jewish Community Centre for London encapsulates that thinking — a portal to being Jewish in any way you want, from sports to learning, from hanging out to dancing. The same spirit is there in Limmud, in the services provided by Jewish Care or by Friends of the Hebrew University. We need more of it, and more that seems like fun, or intellectually stimulating, or both — and that might renew our synagogues too.
Secondly, we need something everyone can share but which is not labelled religious. Mitzvah Day, which the JCC runs in London (November 18), is a good example — it has a clear social purpose and appeals across the community. The idea of mitzvah is religious, but it still attracts those for whom the term “religious” is a turnoff. We should learn from the large Jewish presence at Make Poverty History how strong is the Jewish desire for social action. Despite being on Shabbat and in Edinburgh, Orthodox, Liberal and unaffiliated came together. So a common purpose is essential, and social action might be the focus.
The third thing is a new kind of Jewish portal. The JCC provides a gateway where people can come and taste. We need more like that, physically and in the ether, so that the online generation can find out what’s on, meet, and set up interest groups together. People don’t join organisations any more. But they do campaign for single issues and follow their peer group. We need virtual centres and online networks to offer more to a generation that has voted with its feet away from what the community has traditionally offered, but not totally given up on us yet. Baroness Neuberger is president of Liberal Judaism
Run British businesses from Israel
IT IS a sad fact that all but the most ardent “would be” olim tend to remain in the UK — sad for those who eke out a cloudshrouded life in England whilst yearning for a life under the Israeli sun; and a sad loss for the Israeli economy.
The lure of “just another few thousand pounds” before making the move is understandable. As financial obligations outstrip income, the gap between a UK middle-class salary and the Israeli equivalent yawns ever wider. With imperfect Hebrew, no local qualifications and little protexia, even an Israeli “middle class” income is a chimera. The older you get, the more impossible the transition appears. It need not be so. After 20-plus years in the UK, I started a UK law firm in Jerusalem two years ago, with a single employee — myself — and one active client. Today, with some 70 clients in 12 countries, the firm employs some 10 olim, with several more on the way.
We offer legal services of City style and quality, but at half the price. UK clients are prepared to swap proximity for price; Israelis are thrilled to find locally a service for which they previously had to travel.
There is no reason why this pattern cannot be replicated by others. The paradigm is already established: radiologists in central Israel produce reports for US doctors; paralegals in Modi’in produce reports on title for US property law firms; international investment bankers work from Herzliya; we provide UK legal services from Jerusalem.
Israel can become an international hub for the provision of high-quality professional services at unbeatable prices. Technology has lowered the hurdles and eroded the excuses. It remains for the professionals of AngloJewry to screw their courage to the sticking point and to make the move. Trevor Asserson is principal of Asserson Law Offices, Jerusalem
Start treating the regions as the future
TWO-THIRDS of the Jewish community lives in Greater London. Jews are flocking to Manchester, too, while regional communities die out. But a highly concentrated community is not good for us.
First, there is the danger of becoming increasingly insular in regard to smaller communities and to the wider population. Having the most strongly identifying Jews contained in a few areas also increases communal polarisation.
On a practical level, it is increasingly hard to afford to live in the “Jewish” areas of London and Manchester. And for finalists like me, who are about to enter the job market, it is difficult to be restricted to London. Many of my peers aren’t. The Census report showed increasing numbers identifying as “ethnically” Jewish in far-flung areas. Young professionals find themselves in cities with patchy Jewish support, and are at risk of “dropping out”.
Our communal organisations must invest more in the regions. We must bolster services, provide more opportunities for individuals and communities to network, including online, and empower those on the margins to run grass-roots programmes.
We should also be actively trying to attract people to smaller cities. We must educate people about the Jewish opportunities available there — why is there no online national guide? The mainstream community could learn from the US, where some small communities have offered financial and other incentives to those willing to join them, with much success.
There is no magic bullet to AngloJewry’s “big issues” — assimilation, identification, migration. However, seeing provincial Jewry as a source of future potential, rather than a dying breed, could prove useful in tackling them. Rachelle Arulanantham is a student at Cambridge and former JC intern
Unite our lobbying organisations
THE WAY in which the community makes Israel’s case, and indeed represents its own interests on the political stage, is the subject of incessant debate.
I believe that until such time as the dated three party “Friends of Israel” groups are disbanded, and replaced by one umbrella organisation that represents all political colours and employs an overarching strategy, we are doomed to be ineffective.
As things stand, there are three groups: the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. They advocate on Israel’s behalf and are an important link between our politicians and our community. The Israeli embassy has links to all three organisations, as does Bicom; however, they essentially operate in isolation, setting their own agendas and implementing their own strategies. Importantly, they also answer to people with as much of an interest in furthering their own party political fortunes as those of Israel and of UK Jewry.
The sad reality is that much of the “Friends of Israel” groups’ work centres around protecting their own organisational fiefdoms. The emphasis and ultimate objective of the groupings are laudable, but the organisational politics are counter to the wider objective of promoting Israel and protecting UK Jewry’s interests.
All of us who are involved have honourable intentions and would like to create a positive environment for Israel and Anglo-Jewry in the halls of power. However, if the focus was more on the actual cause and the issues, rather than party political advancement and empire-building, Israel and indeed UK Jewry’s case might be better served. With one set of objectives, one agreed means of achieving those objectives and one way to measure effectiveness, maybe this is one instance where less is actually more. Gavin Stollar is honorary vice-chairman of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel