In an impassioned address to 1,000 guests at the biggest UJIA Annual Dinner since 2002, renowned historian Simon Schama spoke of the ‘dark times’ faced by Jews in the UK and the need to educate on Israel beyond the community.
The event raised £3.8 million, an increase of £500,000 on the previous year.
In spite of his view that it is incumbent on Zionists to assess Israeli policy critically, he insisted, “We all need to be courageous and we all need to be staunch, loyal, loving friends of Israel.” To applause, Schama insisted, “How can you not be a Zionist? We need to reclaim the word ‘Zionist’ – as if it’s a word to be ashamed of – it’s not a word to be ashamed of. And it is not a word to run away from.”
In an evening themed on the need to secure the next generation’s emotional commitment to Israel, UJIA Chairman Bill Benjamin set out a bold vision for the coming year, asking attendees to increase donations by 20%. “Transformation cannot be done on a shoestring. In fact, we have to double UJIA’s level of investment over the next four years,” he said.
In the UK, he spoke of continuing to back youth movements and “doubling what we invest in Birthright”, and in Israel, rebuilding ‘the run down Darca Danciger High School” in Kiryat Shemona, creating a new educational facility at Kibbutz Eshbal, for disadvantaged youth, and the introduction of funding for a science and technology initiative in schools across the Galil.
Communal leaders and distinguished guests, including Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, attended the event at Grosvenor House against the backdrop of a summer of war in Israel and growing public hostility to Israel and anti-Semitism.
HE Ambassador Daniel Taub made an extended address, highlighting the ongoing threats posed by Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS and militants in the Sinai, and praising the British government’s “principled moral clarity” in the recent war with Hamas. He also lauded UJIA for taking the lead in building a “meaningful and passionate, sustainable relationship with Israel” for young people through the support of youth movements, schools, summer camps and Israel trips.
Annual Dinner Chair Keith Black said:
The atmosphere last night was genuinely electric. A thousand members of our community came together to stand firm and look to the future. We are clear about what we have to do in connecting our young people to Israel and we are clear about the need to continue to improve Israel’s poorest region, the Galil. This is how our supporters can make their mark on the Jewish story and continue that story long into the future.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg and Rabbi Joseph Dweck of the Reform, Masorti and Spanish & Portuguese communities were also present, along with supporters of UJIA from all backgrounds and ages. Young professionals, aged 21-35, made up an impressive contingent, with over 100 UJIA Young Patrons, youth movement leaders and Young UJIA committee members in attendance.