Before anything else, I hope you, your families and your loved ones are all healthy and safe.
These last weeks have been terribly challenging. The entire world is confronting an illness that strikes indiscriminately. While all our lives have been turned upside down by this virus, many across this country and within our community have been taken ill. To them, I wish refuah shlemah. To anyone who has lost a loved one, I wish you a long life and no further sorrow. Let us hope the whole world is free from this wicked disease soon.
Many of you will know that my family recently got up from shiva. Having just lost my father, I feel the pain that so many of you are experiencing right now and would like to thank so many of you who have sent us good wishes. It is so difficult to be unable to observe the normal prayer traditions without a minyan, let alone give my father the funeral and shiva we would have wanted. This has made the difficulty of this period only greater. My heart goes out to anyone in any community who is experiencing the same situation. The picture of the young 13-year-old boy, Ismail Abdulwahab, being buried alone with no family present was heart breaking. As I write to you, our prime minister is still in intensive care and our thoughts and prayers are with him for a full and speedy recovery. This virus is indiscriminate and ruthless and we must all adhere to the government’s restrictions. I urge you all to stay at home for he or she who has saved one life, our sages teach us, has saved the world entire.
Our current situation is putting significant pressure on many of our organisations and we should all be proud of the way they are reacting. In particular, I want to express my admiration to the staff who often go well beyond the call of duty to ensure the needs of our community are met. Many of you will have seen the Emergency Joint Campaign of Jewish Care, Nightingale Hammerson and the Fed in Manchester, supported by the JLC, to raise funds to meet their immediate needs. Our communal organisations need our help like never before.
A word of support as well for our synagogue bodies who, across the spectrum, have been facing unprecedented challenges. From closing synagogues, to organising online activities and education for members to, unfortunately, significantly higher burial requirements, the world as we know it has changed.
What has not changed are the acts of chesed that we so often see amongst our wonderful community. Last week, my wife’s great uncle passed away in a Jewish Care home. Unfortunately, his son could not be with him at the end as the home is locked down and he, for his own medical reasons, has had to stay in isolation. The feeling of being apart from his father at that moment was extremely distressing. On the day his father died, he received a note from the director of the home who told him that the staff had been sitting with his father throughout his final moments, telling him how much his son loved him. That single act of kindness brought great comfort at a moment of unimaginable pain and showed, once more, how good deeds, however small, can change one’s life or outlook.
If any good is to come out of this period of our lives, it should be the message that small acts of kindness, often between strangers, have transformational power. Whether it being phoning someone just to check in, helping with shopping or countless other examples. In a time of great uncertainty and discomfort, let us focus on our capacity to make a difference in the world, in the life of even one individual in the smallest way.
In this fight, there is no division between peoples. We are all waging the same battle and every good deed only brings us closer together.
I am writing this on the eve of Pesach. Tonight, everywhere around the world, we will sit with our families, where possible, and recount the story of the exodus from Egypt. Just as we do every year, we will ask: “why is this night is different to all other nights?” Sadly, for many of us this year's Pesach will be like no other in living memory. Families are split, parents and grandparents are on their own and, as a result, the way in which we celebrate this Pesach will be with a heavier heart, yearning to be together with all our loved ones.
Pesach is also known as Zman Cherutenu, the time of our freedom. We pray that next year we will be truly free. As we sit around our tables this year, let us pray that our captivity from this virus comes to a conclusion very soon.
To next year in Jerusalem. Whether in body or in spirit, let us hope and pray that next year we will be free to celebrate Pesach in the manner we have enjoyed for so many years, reunited with our loved ones.
Celebrating all who work with the Jewish community and for equality
Each February in the UK marks LGBT History Month. This month is a way for all people to celebrate the contribution of LGBT people to the UK, acknowledge the fight for equality and promote the key tenets of inclusion and diversity & the benefits to the public.
At the JLC we wanted to find a way to embrace this, to profile the people and projects within our member organisations that are working towards LGBT equality and advancing inclusion. When many within our community have experienced concerns about growing prejudice targeting Jewish people, this month offers an opportunity to focus on a positive part we can all play in protecting and providing for the diverse people within our community.
We have reached out to all our members and are collating responses; we wanted to hear about the different projects and the amazing people that are making a difference. Each project or person plays a vital role in helping to shape the future of LGBT inclusion within the UK Jewish Community, and it is a pleasure to be a part of highlighting that to the rest of the community.
Over the past few years, the Jewish Community of the UK has been through a lot, there has been more focus on us in the media, in politics and on our streets and we have been resilient and loud in our response to calling out antisemitism wherever it has taken a hold. Our members have been at the forefront of this as well as running a myriad of other projects, including positive ones like the ones we are highlighting here.
Some of those highlighted have been involved in improving inclusion in their places of work including with training from Keshet UK. Some feature the dedicated professionals and volunteers who are contributing to religious life, community services and enriching Jewish culture. Some showcase the broader benefits to organisations and communities of harnessing the rich diversity of identities and talents of those who bring their full selves to their work. ALL the people and projects demonstrate the solidarity, strength and joy that come from fighting for equality and embracing diversity.
We are so proud that our member organisations cover a broad range of expertise and that they reflect such a large proportion of the UK Jewish Population. We hope that in highlighting these projects, everyone can feel a little more proud of our community.
I’ve always been a fan of Chanukah, I mean - 8 days of doughnuts, what’s not to like? But growing up, there was one aspect that excited me the most.
For some, it’s the thrill of presents, whether 8 small or 1 large. I remember my friends and siblings using the Argos catalogue as some kind of mystical advent calendar, leaving it in obvious places with relevant page corners turned down in hopes of receiving the latest fad.
For others, it’s the joy of candle lighting, the chance to play with fire in a parentally sanctioned way. Show me the child who doesn’t enjoy turning the candle just that bit too long when trying to drip the wax into the holder for added safety...
And those arguments about what exactly constitutes a latke? Just potato? Potato and egg? Onion or not? Or most controversial of all, my grandmother’s matzo meal batter with neither potato or onion, served with sugar and cinnamon after candle lighting? Readers, I am imagining your horrified faces at that suggestion, even my own husband is probably forcing a smile at seeing me in print whilst screaming inside “BUT THOSE ARE BUBBELAS! FOR PESACH!!!” (Trust me, matzo meal latkes rock. Worth every calorie).
But I’m a showbiz luvvie, so above the smell of the grease and the roar of the fryer, it was all about the Chanukah concerts. Whether in the synagogue hall, school or community centre, these events were the highlight of my year. Even Purim couldn’t hold a candle to them. Heading out in your costume on a dark wintry night seemed like the height of glamour. The building would be decorated, the Ladies Guild / PTA / Volunteers would have put out tables of treats, there would be games and activities - dreidel spinning for the kids, roulette for the adults (same same, but different), eating doughnuts without licking your lips (oh no! I’ll have to try again!) And before that, we would get to perform.
Over the Summer, and since June 2019, I have spent a fair amount of time with leaders of Jewish communities and senior representatives of Jewish communal organisations from around the world.
There had been one topic that has been at the forefront of their mind- antisemitism. And this global focus amongst jewish communal leaders on the topic is leading to a slight policy difference with us in the UK; which is ironic, since the high profile focus on anti-Jewish racism in the Labour Party here in the UK is one of the factors that is cited for an increasingly hard line approach on the issue coming out of the United States community and Israel.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the outgoing Executive Vice President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, made a speech at a gathering of jewish communal leaders in Israel in June in which he described there being a “global war against the Jews”. For him, from his vantage point, the stakes were that high. Of course, he is able to take a much more global view of the threats around the world than we do in the UK, looking parochially at our own issues. But even we, as leaders of Jewish communal organisations in the UK, with all the threats that we are familiar with- including record numbers of reported antisemitic incidents and our main Opposition Party under investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission- would not describe what we face in the UK in such bellicose terms. Perhaps it is our typical English reserve and stiff upper lip attitude, but we have sought frequently not to use alarmist language in confronting the challenges that we face.
The United States Government has begun to make policy interventions in this area. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has stated that it is US Government policy than anti-Zionism is the same as antisemitism.
This article first appeared in the Jewish News on 3rd May 2019.
JLC Director of Policy & Public Affairs Claudia Mendoza writes:
Public attitudes and awareness towards mental health have changed significantly over the years. This is in no small part due to the fact that there has been a sea change in the way mental health is addressed. From government to charities to celebrities drawing attention to the issue, the taboo is slowly being eroded. This is certainly true in our own community, where more people are coming forward to talk about their own experiences.
Indeed, the Community Wellbeing Task Force – a Jewish Leadership Council led initiative – was set up to address the increasing mental health challenges facing Jewish children and young people today. The Community Wellbeing Project is a three-year pilot scheme stemming from the advice of an expert panel and commissioned research, which identified that a positive approach to mental health and wellbeing requires an educated partnership between school staff, parents/carers and students. Wellbeing Practitioners have been recruited in five pilot schools in London and Manchester to build on existing programmes, run new evidence-based initiatives and work together to share best practices. The Wellbeing Practitioner will support the school in the development and delivery of its whole school approach to emotional wellbeing.
Having a mental health condition increases your chances of being lonely but loneliness – which we tend to associate with older people – can affect anyone. Loneliness does not discriminate when it comes to age or background and even if you are surrounded by colleagues, friends and family, you can still be affected by loneliness. The effects can be as detrimental on a person’s health as that of many physical health conditions.
The wonderful thing about being part of a community is the sense of belonging and structure it provides. Indeed, Judaism as a religion offers much needed order in an increasingly chaotic world. There are practices around every life event helping us to navigate our way from cradle to grave and the laws around Shabbat provide tranquillity after a working week.
At the end of last year, the Prime Minister launched the government’s loneliness strategy which confirmed that all GPs in England will be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services by 2023. This is known as ‘social prescribing’ and will allow GPs to direct patients to community workers offering tailored support to help people improve their health and wellbeing, instead of defaulting to medicine.
The Jewish community has much to offer when it comes to social prescribing. Of our 35 members, many have programmes aimed at tackling loneliness. This week the JLC facilitated a meeting between Jewish Care, JAMI and Mims Davies MP in her capacity as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society. In this role, she has responsibility for the cross-government work on loneliness and we were able to share some of Jewish Care and JAMI’s work as well as some of the work done by our other member organisations.
The Apples and Honey nursery based at Nightingale House for example, is the UK’s first nursery to be based at a care home, allowing older people to take part in activities with children such as baking and singing. The benefits of intergenerational activities go far beyond alleviating loneliness but on this issue, it has proven a huge success.
As with all our engagement with government, we want to be seen as a community who can offer best practice and innovation on issues affecting society at large. The Jewish community faces some unique challenges but most of the challenges we face are faced by many outside the community. Being part of a community allows us to problem solve together but we want to make sure that the things which work for us can work for others too and we hope that the Minister took away some ideas.
Parliament has been at the forefront of the Brexit drama over the last few months. Through repeated meaningful votes, indicative votes, and backbenchers taking control of the order paper from the Government, it is becoming a weekly drama to tune in and see the results from the latest “crunch” votes.
Ultimately, a UK out of the EU will affect many aspects of UK law and change the way we can build on existing relationships with countries outside of the EU. This is why the JLC and Board of Deputies produced a joint report last year on Brexit and the Jewish Community. In the report we detail our desire for a post-EU Britain to maintain a robust sanctions and anti-terror regime, continue to protect religious freedom on Shechita, and build an even stronger relationship with Israel. Do read the report if you haven’t already.
Since our last newsletter we saw the proscription of Hizballah in its entirety by the Home Office. This ended the situation in which the UK only proscribed the organisation’s military wing and not the political wing, a distinction that many believed to be false (including the organisation itself). The proscription was approved by both Houses of Parliament without a contested vote and welcomed by communal organisations.
In March we marked the one year anniversary of the Jewish community gathering in Parliament Square to say ‘Enough is Enough’ in response to antisemitism in the Labour Party. The anniversary came shortly after a group of Labour MPs left their party to form the Independent Group (TIG) and were shortly joined by three MPs from the Conservatives. Although Brexit formed a major part of this dramatic move, the Labour antisemitism scandal was clearly a major factor – especially for Jewish MP Luciana Berger.
Former Labour MP Ian Austin also left to sit as an independent (although not with TIG) and had some strong words to say in a debate on UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Speaking in the chamber he said, “It is profoundly shocking to me that a political party that I joined as a teenager to fight racism has become embroiled in a scandal like this. It has be dealt with much more seriously. The Labour party must respond properly to the reasonable requests made by the Jewish community more than a year ago, and must boot out the racists for good.” You can watch the speech here.
A long-term concern of the Jewish community has been the biased and unfair treatment of Israel at UN bodies. This has been particularly noticeable at the UN Human Rights Council where Israel is the only nation to be subject to its own permanent item on the agenda in which it is singled out for criticism. We were delighted to see the Government honour its pledge from last year to vote against all resolutions under the permanent item and the Foreign Secretary explained why in an article for the JC.
In Foreign Office questions, the Foreign Secretary was asked about the USA’s decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In response he said, “We should never recognise the annexation of territory by force,” before adding “Israel is an ally and a shining example of democracy in a part of the world where that is not common. We want Israel to be a success, and we consider it to be a great friend, but on this we do not agree.”
It is also worth noting the departure of the Middle East Minister, Alistair Burt, who resigned to rebel against the government on a Brexit related vote. Burt was well respected across the House and was known for being on top of his brief while also taking a fair approach to the issues. The Asia Minister, Mark Field, is covering the Middle East portfolio until a replacement is appointed.
Lastly, elections will soon be upon us. Local elections will be taking place on Thursday 2nd May in many councils outside of London including Hertsmere, Bury, Salford, Trafford, Stockport, Gateshead, Watford, Three Rivers, and some wards in Epping Forest, so do make sure you vote if there is an election where you live. It is also increasingly likely that there will be European elections towards the end of May so it is as vital as ever that those eligible ensure they are registered to vote.
Parliament is now in recess but with elections around the corner and Brexit extended until Halloween, the UK’s political drama looks unlikely to end any time soon.
Last month, the Jewish Leadership Council, alongside the Board of Deputies and the Greater Manchester Jewish Representative Council hosted around 50 Councillors to discuss Jewish life in Manchester. This is the third time we have collectively run this seminar and it continues to gain strength and support.
It great to see so many Councillors attending with whom we have fostered relationships. Several of these councillors perform dual roles of representing their local wards whilst simultaneously employed as caseworkers in MPs offices. The event also served as an excellent opportunity to meet and forge links with new Councillors from across the region. There was a large contingent from outside the Jewish heartlands of Bury, Salford and Manchester. This was particularly pertinent to Ed Horwich who spoke about his work running the Jewish Small Communities Network.
The seminar is designed to address and not shy away from the issues that we have as a community. The largest sessions were on the topics of antisemitism and Israel. The participants heard powerful testimony from Holocaust survivor Ruth Lachs. In addition, there were valued contributions by representatives from the Community Security Trust, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Jewish Representative Council.
The session on Israel also started with powerful personal recollections from Niran Bassoon-Timan. Niran is an Iraqi refugee who was forced to flee her home country for Israel in 1948. Hannah Rose, President of the Union of Jewish Students, spoke eloquently about how the unjust delegitimisation of Israel negatively affects young Jewish people. Luke Akehurst from We Believe in Israel discussed his work with Councillors including his regular delegations to Israel and Anthony Dennison discussed the work of North West Friends of Israel.
The other purpose of the seminar was to highlight the positive aspects of the Jewish community, such as the work of our social care providers and schools. Councillors were naturally impressed to hear about the work of The Fed, Nicky Alliance and Outreach. By hosting the event at King David School, participants could see first-hand how much the school is thriving. The Chair of Governors, Joshua Rowe, also discussed the vision and ethos of the school.
For the first time at the seminar, there was a panel on the Charedi community in Manchester. It is clear to see that the community is thriving and growing rapidly. It was therefore essential to give Councillors the opportunity to discuss the unique needs of this section of our community.
Why does KeshetUK exist?
KeshetUK exists because we believe in a world where no one has to choose between their LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) and Jewish identity. We believe that Jewish communities should be nurturing, warm and welcoming places and they haven't always been for LGBT+ Jewish people.
There is often a lack of understanding about the problems LGBT+ can face. For example, nearly half (45 per cent) of LGBT+ pupils - including 64 per cent of trans pupils - are bullied for being LGBT+ in Britain's schools*. Those working in Jewish schools must be prepared with the tools and skills to ensure that LGBT+ Jewish young people are kept safe and feel valued as members of their community.
There are so many people in our communities who are dedicated to ensuring LGBT+ inclusion. However, in my experience the two biggest things that prevent people working on LGBT+ inclusion are fear (either of doing the wrong thing or others judging them for wanting to support LGBT+ Jewish community) or complacency (believing they already do enough or don’t have any issues). KeshetUK exists to help all people overcome their fear, and if necessary to challenge complacency, so people can make real change in their communities.
When was KeshetUK founded?
Since 2013, KeshetUK has been working within UK Jewish communities, supporting them to be more inclusive of LGBT+ people and their families. KeshetUK was established by a group of LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Jewish people who felt that there was a lack of explicit recognition of the existence and needs of LGBT+ people within the Jewish community In 2015 we became a registered charity, and our activities have grown substantially since then as UK Jewish communities have come to value LGBT+ inclusion and our role in supporting them to achieve it.
We currently have 3 paid staff - me (Executive Director), Neil Levitan (our Director of Programmes who works part time) and our newest member of staff Kelly Waldorf (our Programme and Volunteer officer who started in January 2019), 5 wonderful trustees and a dozen very hard-working volunteers.
The Senior Faith in Leadership Program (SFLP) aims to facilitate meaningful encounters between people serving different faith communities in different leadership roles – both lay and clerical. It consists of three modules, each of which is three days long.
I was lucky enough to be offered a place on the 2019 SFLP program - I applied after a friend told me of her incredible experience on the 2018 course.
The first module took place in January. As my role as the JLC regional manager in Scotland involves some interfaith and inter-communal work, I was keen to gain a greater insight into different faiths as well as develop my skills when it comes to working across communities and faith groups.
By Miki Vyse, Yorkshire & East Coast Regional Manager, JLC
February is LGBT history month.
Last summer, the JLC participated in inclusivity training ran by Keshet UK.
The session started by setting some ground rules for the day, something that I feel is incredibly important in any training session. Setting ground rules helps people to understand what they can get out of the session, but also allows for the space to ask questions.
Keshet UK use an important rule in all their training sessions: assume every question is asked from a good place. That rule has now changed the way I interact in debates, since it is so easy to assume that people are trying to play a contentious character when asking difficult questions, or that they are being intentionally offensive. This guideline, however, helped us all to be honest and accepting of every question asked.