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Balfour 100

Joe Woolf, FZY Mazkir 2017/18, gives a greater insight into the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration

Celebrating Balfour

Josh Marks, FZY Movement Worker 2017/18 takes a closer look at the sixty-seven words that paved the way for a Jewish State

Today, 2 November, marks the centenary of The Balfour Declaration. On a scrap of paper no larger than A5, Lord Arthur Balfour dictates the all-important sixty-seven words to Lord Walter Rothschild:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

One hundred years later, the letter has become a contentious marker of the fine line that Israel has had to tread as an independent, democratic state, Jewish in nature and responsible also for its non-Jewish inhabitants. In an atmosphere of soundbite comments, hot-headed and short on nuance, here is an almost word-by-word of the promises that Lord Balfour makes, and an analysis of their respective successes.

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…

This is the easy bit. Note how the Conservative Balfour speaks on behalf of the Government, outlining the stance taken by the Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The coalition was broadly echoing an opinion that the Labour party had endorsed just three months earlier in their War Aims Memorandum. That means that support for Zionism was truly a cross-party matter.

…and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…

Did they? On the one hand, the British Mandate for Palestine had the establishment of a Jewish home as a stated aim, recognised by the League of Nations. It facilitated the establishment of the Jewish Agency and oversaw an estimated 360,000 legal Jewish migrants between 1920 and 1945.

On the other hand, the British Mandate in Palestine allotted 87,500 acres of land to Arabs to be cultivated and only 4,250 to Jews. A 1939 White Paper forbade land sales to Jews in 95% of mandatory Palestine.

…it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…

British Jew Herbert Samuel, the first High Commissioner of Palestine, limited Jewish immigration to protect ‘the interests of the present population’. In 1980, the Jerusalem Law ‘secures rights of members of all religions’. All Orthodox religious ceremonies performed in Israel, under any religious auspice, are recognised. The Basic Law (1992), which outlines the ‘values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state’, protects the lives, bodies and dignities of all people. There have been two Arab judges on the Supreme Court of Israel.

After gaining control of the West Bank in 1967, Israel guaranteed Muslim access to mosques and Christian access to churches. The Israeli Defense Forces foiled a Jewish attempt to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and continues to protect this site from attacks by non-Muslims. The city of Jerusalem has given financial support to religious Muslim activities.

There is still some way to go for this promise to be realised. All 137 official designated holy sites recognised by Israel are Jewish, and there is markedly less civil liberty guaranteed in the areas that fall under the governance of the Palestinian Authority. In spite of that, there is de facto recognition of other faiths and their religious rights, as demonstrated.

…or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

Unfortunately, this was the promise that was hardest for Balfour to ensure. In the decade that followed Israel’s declaration of independence, approximately 850,000 Jews were persecuted, expelled or evacuated from Arab and Muslim countries. In 1948, there were approx. 35,000 Jews in Libya. Today there are none. In 1948, there were approx. 135,000 Jews in Iraq. Today there are 5. In 1948, there were approx. 30,000 Jews in Syria. In 2014, there were just 17.

To conclude, then, we should celebrate with pride the Balfour Declaration, with its historic promise of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. We should be unapologetically proud of the role that young people played in establishing a Nation-State for a displaced people. And whilst we should note that some promises remain unfulfilled, we should continue to struggle towards the ‘infinite dream’ that is Herzl’s Zionism, and that is beautifully and succinctly summarised in Balfour’s sixty-seven words.

Succot & Bar Kochba

Joe Woolf: Mazkir 2017/18

Reflections on Netina 2017

By Issie Levin

Issie LevinIssie has just returned back to the UK after being a participant on Netina, FZY’s new social action and leadership Kedma summer programme in Ghana in partnership with Tzedek.

I was lucky enough to spend the past three weeks as part of 18 Brits on an FZY and Tzedek UK organised, social action trip to Tamale in the North of Ghana leading and preparing a summer camp for 120 local children in the rural village of Nyankpala. Our efforts had an educational focus, with each day themed on issues such as: Sanitation, Environment, Dreams & Ambitions, Identity and many more. We worked alongside 16 local Ghanaian youth leaders, simultaneously teaching them leadership skills while educating the children on issues which are rarely brought up within their homes or at school due to a more limiting, traditional approach towards these kids’ future. Through a range of games, songs, sports, artwork and much more the children were able to learn interactively, creating a fun yet serious learning atmosphere across camp.

Netina - 2However, the immense poverty within communities such as Nyankpala were clearly at the forefront of our minds during our time there. A low supply of clean water from the pump where the children would be expected to wash their hands, children without shoes and the littered grounds were just a couple of the obvious challenges we were not used to facing and had to adapt to. When not at camp, we were encouraged to question and ponder on the most effective way to partake in social action projects. Frequently, a couple of us would vocally doubt the relevance and effectiveness of our work, questioning whether a few songs and games were all these kids were absorbing and whether this was a satisfactory outcome to the project. Words such as ‘voluntourism’ in particular stuck in my head at times as we admired the magnificent elephants of Mole National Park and the beautiful monuments and buildings, within Accra (the capital city), in which we could compare and see where government funding was aimed at. The fact the kids we led were unlikely to have ever had the opportunity to appreciate theses sights was certainly thought provoking. These points were challenging, I began to doubt, despite the fact I was loving every minute spent leading the kids, to what extent we seriously impacting this community, and if we were, was it more harmful than beneficial?

NetinaAs the camp and relationships with the kids progressed I began to appreciate further the intelligence of the kids who advanced and learnt, watching them gain in confidence and putting into place more and more ideas which we’d taught them. I came to the conclusion, with the help of fierce debate and discussion, that trying to lay the groundwork for a minor, yet sustainable difference is better than doing nothing at all. Undoubtedly, education has to be the focus for developing countries such as Ghana and although we (as a group of 18) may never clearly see how effective our programme was in making a difference, we can hope we learnt a small helping hand towards that larger shift in attitude. We, and a number of Ghanaians that we spoke to, hope that the ambitions of the future generations within these countries will be prioritised and nurtured. Hopefully, these countries can continue to enhance on their developing rights, primarily to provide successful education across the whole country, especially deprived areas outside Accra. Throughout this trip my perspective has shifted in terms of a range of topics, by tolerating and appreciating the views of others more seriously than previously, I was able to understand and even strengthen my position on widespread issues that were discussed. I believe that this trip challenged me significantly in numerous ways. It allowed me to partially burst my bubble of privilege and self-importance in order to appreciate the differences in lives, cultures and views of others (both Ghanaian and British) and how best we can work together in order to allow countries, like Ghana, to naturally evolve and progress for the better. This may act as an alternative to just throwing money and resources unsustainably at an area, potentially leading to more wealth & social inequality and damage in the long term.

I couldn’t be more thankful for the 17 loving people who spent the past three weeks challenging and supporting me, or the wonderful and optimistic Nyankpala community for their welcome and enthusiasm.

Thoughts from the FZY Mazkirim: Outgoing & Incoming

Noah Levy: FZY Mazkir 2016/17

Noah LevyMy very first Shabbat with FZY was around 7 and a half years ago, FZY Israel tour orientation of 2010. I was perplexed, didn’t have much belonging, had very few friends, it’s fair to say it was a puzzling time for me; then I had to choose which service to go to. Rumours going around that the orthodox one is best because you can sit at the back and do nothing, others suggesting the alternative service because they meditate, someone else suggested reform because ‘it’s just a sing along’. Flash forward to last Shabbat, my final FZY Shabbat, Kesher 2017, I was lucky enough to sit in on three fully functioning services led by madrichim whose sole aim was to offer our chanichim different ways to celebrate Shabbat. I danced in a circle in the orthodox explanatory service, I partook in a discussion about feminism within Judaism in the alternative discussion based service, and I harmonised melodies in the reform service, albeit not very well. Then I sat in the dining hall and was simply overwhelmed by the sound of Shabbat songs sung by people from such diverse backgrounds; people from up north, people from London, Essex, Scotland, the south coast, Israel and even the security guard from Hungary sang along. This is what FZY is all about, not necessarily identifying as a type of Jew, but as a Jew.

I’d like to share with you three areas of the movement that I believe we have excelled in over the past year: inclusion, chinuch and new opportunities.

Firstly, inclusion. FZY at its pinnacle is a youth movement, a group of people who come together to celebrate their Jewish and Zionist identities. But this year, we have sought to go beyond that, we have made it a priority to do what we can to ensure we are being as inclusive as possible. Whether that is through training sessions with Keshet UK, or having pre-camp sessions about the language we use, or through the changes we are making to our application forms, we are proactive in seeking to celebrate identities rather than just accept them. One of my fondest memories of the year has got to be Veida; yeah, numbers aren’t quite the same as they were several years ago, but the quality of debate and passion of our members is second to none. But this year we introduced a ‘Veida Buddy System’ to partner experienced members, with the younger members. Because of this, we had every single member participating in debate. But what we should really be proud of, is the fact that one of the youngest members present at Veida put forward a motion to make mental health training mandatory on every pre-camp, it passed unanimously. That is the type of atmosphere we are creating at FZY, one where we empower our youngest to speak, and one where we are starting conversations about things that young people should be talking about.

The second thing that I believe FZY has excelled at this year, is the level of chinuch that we provide. Remembering that FZY is pluralist not only religiously but also politically, this year we have engaged with a number of new practical ways to explore Judaism, Zionism and Israel. On Israel tour, we created a brand-new conflict seminar, where we brought together professionals from Yachad and StandWithUs to provide expert education, which our Madrichim helped to facilitate. For our participants, it was a totally new opportunity to engage with Israel in a challenging and innovative way. At Veida we were also mandated to work with organisations who educate on minorities in Israel and who focus on co-existence projects. And on Kesher – Summer Camp – we transported Chanichim each day to different places in Israel. Over the fortnight, we ran activities that were deeply thoughtful, engaging not just with Israel and Jewish identity, but also with how these themes overlap with social media, selfies, self-esteem, self-image, and growing up as Zionist millennials. These are just a couple of examples of high level education from the past year.

The third area of FZY that has been massively strengthened is our new programmes. Hadracha aleph, for the year group after tour, was totally revamped this year. It now intensely focuses on our movement, and is tailored to educate Madrichim on this day and age. We had almost 100 participants across the country, just one of the many new mini FZY communities that we’ve built. But this year we also offered a new leadership opportunity to the UK community through Diller Teens, something that my successor will speak about later on. This summer however, my focus has been on Netina, our brand new social action project with Tzedek. Acting on Jewish values, 16 fantastic madrichim are running a 2-week summer camp in Nyankpala, northern Ghana. New opportunities such as Netina and Diller are enabling our members to solidify their FZY identity, at the same time as celebrating and acting on Jewish values.

This year has been great fun. For any ex movement workers in the room I’m sure you’ll agree, leaving movement work is not only a huge relief, but one also carries a great deal of pride that you’ve been able to shape the movement that you love in so many different ways. But for me, this wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for those who helped me get here, those at UJS who helped me develop myself on campus, UJIA who provided me with hadracha, and everyone who was a part of my FZY journey. However, I want to make special reference to the outgoing movement team, Leo and Charlie. You both made the decision to dedicate two years of your life to this movement, and there have been challenges, but you’ve made it! On behalf of the movement, a massive thank you and Kol hakavod, and from me, I couldn’t have had a better team! Leo, we go back as mates for many years and we’ve followed the same FZY journey and to be honest, I’m still a bit shocked that we both ended up here, but it has been special. Charlie, you have been an absolute rock in the office, whenever I’ve needed a bit of sense and logic, you’ve slapped it into me, and for that, and everything else, I am incredibly grateful.

Dagan, shlichut is about directly implementing Israel into everything we do, you have done that plus more and you’ve always offered a positive approach and consistent reality checks for when I go off on one. Mor, although you aren’t here, the same goes for you and I know that you are going to work wonders next year as a campus shaliach. Emma Kimche and Emma Nagli, the Emmas, I can’t stress enough how thankful I am for you both, and for the care you have for FZY. And there is one more person who I wold like to thank and that is Joel, I won’t delve into detail, but FZY is incredibly lucky to have you, not only as an employee, but also as a mentor for all movement workers.

I must say, I am a little jealous of next year’s team. Things are really looking up for FZY, and I am fully confident that valuable partnerships will be developed and chinuch provisions increased. The movement is in strong hands and I am excited to see what you will achieve.

I found myself at that Israel Tour orientation in 2010 because I wasn’t ‘frum’ enough for BA and I was too ‘frum’ for habo (that’s a mancunian mentality by the way), but from this there is actually a profound message. FZY brings people together who may not have an established identity, but when people come together they celebrate what is mutual, and within FZY that mutual thing will always be Judaism, Israel and Zionism, in so many different ways. The movement that’s provided Abba Eban, Chaim Herzog, Sasha Tal Gold and Paul Lenga, it has been an honour to be its Mazkir.


Joe Woolf: FZY Mazkir 2017/18

Joe WoolfThis year, I truly believe is an exciting year for FZY. With various changes to our programmes, restructuring of our team and significant, historic events both for FZY and for Israel – the next year is going to be a jam-packed and memorable one.

First things first – Our vision. Together with the rest of the incoming movement team and with the help of the previous team, our members and of course Joel I want to present to you our vision for the movement. This is a vision based on our values and ideologies as a movement, something we have incorporated into all our programmes throughout the year. For 107 years FZY has been a central part of the British Jewish community, providing expert education, life changing experiences and shaping the lives of 1000s of young people – including many of you standing here. As a movement, it is our job to understand young people today, to understand what it is that they need now and how that differs from the programmes we have offered in the past. Over the past year we have started to do that with successful programmes such as Netina and Diller Teens. This year we are looking to build on these successes and encourage a cohort of new FZY participants to continue with our Kedma, post tour options in what is fast becoming one of our most popular and exciting age groups. As well as the current programmes on offer we are launching a new Kedma option ‘The Next Step’. Through FZY I have gained work experience in various fields of work and so with the help of our alumni community, we are looking to pair our post-tour participants up with them for mentoring and work experience.

One significant milestone for FZY this year is the 25th anniversary of FZY summer camp – Kesher, to mark this we are going to be tailoring the programming to the community’s needs. In the past we have been predominantly targeting large Jewish communities such as London, Manchester and Leeds, this year it is our vision to explore the country, break into provincial Jewish communities and connect them with both what FZY does and their children with the rest of the FZY community. We are also looking to get back in touch with various past participants to mark this anniversary of what has historically been a backbone of FZY Summer programmes.

Furthermore, we are looking to develop Israel Tour and Year Course. For decades tour has been a major summer programme offered by FZY, we want it to remain this way as we see the great importance of an informal, educational trip to Israel such as tour in carrying out our aims. We are looking at how we can work alongside other trips offered today, namely the year 9 Israel trips. We are looking at restructuring tour to frame a ‘second timers trip’. This will run alongside tour in a similar way, but will focus intensely on elements of Israel that they perhaps haven’t seen on previous programmes.

Year course is another essential and important programme we offer, that further helps us carry out our aims in general, but more specifically it is the programme we offer that exposes our members to the opportunities of Aliyah. The vision is, for them to move to Israel, build the land and inspire others to do so. Over the coming year we are looking to change how the programme is run ensuring that FZY and our aims and values are central to everything that is done whilst on year course. Our new accommodation in Tel Aviv is also an exciting prospect for year course participants in the coming years.

Yearly activities run by FZY are just as important as our summer programmes, and whilst over the last year our Kedma programmes have made significant steps in reinvigorating weekly activities, with over 100 people nationwide participating regularly in programmes such as hadracha, it is our aim to increase participation at important yearly events such as Veida and shabbatonim.

Veida this year is going to be held as an overnight shabbaton – Members Seminar followed by a one-day Veida in a convenient location to maximise the pinnacle: policy, constitution and voting for Mazkir/a. A stronger mandate makes a stronger movement.

Bogsem is another shabbaton that this year we are aiming to re-excite our members by looking into holding this event in Budapest. Together with the Jewish Agency we are hoping to make Bogsem both affordable and a thought provoking and educational experience. Aiming to connect our university members with their Jewish heritage and the movement’s Zionist ideology. This will be another expectation of all tour madrachim applicants to attend. The reason we have decided that this seminar is important to change and attempt to attract more participants is because we truly believe this seminar is a critical point in developing the leaders of whom go on to lead camps and tours with FZY and further, be involved in student leadership at their universities.

After mentioning throughout my speech the significance of the hadracha programme in previous years, we have decided to reinvent the programme and have included a shabbaton, which will be for both hadracha alef and bet. This shabbaton has the aim of not only educating and inspiring the chanachim, but also encouraging peer leadership, something we believe is an essential step in creating future leaders. Helping us to develop FZY leaders, and future the leaders of the Jewish community.

The Diller Teen Fellows programme is an immersive leadership programme for select teens across the UK. Diller is currently running in 6 continents and 32 communities, with FZY being the movement to bring Diller into Europe. As part of the programme in the UK we are twinned with the Diller Tiberius group with both cohorts working together throughout the year. This year we are offering Diller to post-tour participants across the UK. The programme is made up of 5 shabbatonim, one community mifgash and a 2-week trip to Israel in the summer.

Lastly, this year is a significant year in Jewish and Zionist history. This year marks the 125th anniversary of the first world Zionist congress in Basle, 100 years since the Balfour declaration and the 70th anniversary of the establishment of The State of Israel. All of these milestones will be marked by events run for our members to inform, educate and celebrate these historic anniversaries.

Already this year we have spoken to our members about all our ideas and we look forward in continuing to grow and shape FZY into the movement that our members want it to be and the British Jewish community of today need it to be.

Thank you for coming today and I look forward to meeting with you all individually, and seeing development between FZY and your organisation.

FZY Israel Tour; Perspectives from the Chanichim

Read here the speeches written and delivered by a couple of the FZY chanichim at the FZY Maccabiah Event ceremony

Roni Altman; Tour 5

Eretz Zion, Yerushalayim. Those three words have been said and sung by Jews; young and old all over the world. Despite monotonously reciting them at practically every Jewish event ever, I never fully understood their importance before tour.

Israel is only one sixth of one percent of the total landmass of the Middle East. Israel has the most geniuses per capita. Around 70 unique communities are present in Israel. Statistics such as these are so easily overlooked, especially living abroad. it’s not until you tour Israel and see the high-tech city of Tel Aviv, see the multiculturalism in cities such as Haifa, see the mingling of old and new, all in a land so small, that these facts come alive.

Facts alone cannot capture the smell of spices sold at Machane Yehuda, the feeling of a warm, welcoming FZY Shabbat, or the passion felt by people of unparalleled diversity. As much as facts learned outside of Israel may help to begin to appreciate Israel until you arrive here, the connection so many people have to this land is almost incomprehensible.

When Israelis refer to Israel, they call it ‘ha’aretz,’ the land. Through exploring and working on the physical land, with Hashomer Hachadash, I understood the importance of caring for the land in Israel, as well as being connected spiritually to this country. Their message of ‘shomer achi,’ my brother’s keeper, inspired me to take action towards the issues I care about.

Connection is something I have learned a lot about so far on tour. Whereas visiting the Kotel helped reaffirm my own connection, exploring the Baha’i gardens and Druze hospitality helped me better understand other connections to Israel, as well as my own.

In truth, I am in the privileged position of having visited Israel many times, yet every time I come, I learn and experience Israel in different way. Often, many people already have a view or opinion about Israel, largely due to influence of family or friends. Yet, through the different talks and experiences unique to FZY and Young Judaea, I have not only been informed, but more importantly given space to allow me to form my own opinion about issues that concern Zionists everywhere, not just in Israel. When I return back to rainy old Manchester, other than leaving with a carry on full of duty free Toblerones, I will leave with a new sense of connection and comprehension of Israel. Many times, when I come to Israel I come on holiday, yet this time when I came with FZY, I came home.

Guy Rapacioli; Tour 2

A few days ago, our Madrichim asked us “what’s the most important thing about Judaism? What does being Jewish mean to you?” Despite some more outlandish suggestions such as “Chamantashen, Rabbi Slaznic and being able to prove everyone wrong”, it was overwhelmingly suggested that the most important things for us as Jews is the family and community, the food, the culture. Being on tour with FZY has allowed us to discover this culture in the very land where it cultivates. We’ve visited historic sites like the Kotel and the Old City in Jerusalem, and forced ourselves up Masada at 5am to experience the best sunrise you can ever hope to witness. And what’s more, we’ve done it all with smiles on our faces from start to finish, and a constant ruach that makes the FZY Tour experience so unique.

So, what gave us the motivation to do all of the amazing activities and once in a lifetime opportunities we’ve been offered, to crawl out of bed as early as 3:30 am to discover Israel? What strength did we gather to hike Masada? We’ve all been swept up by an amazing spirit and atmosphere that has lead us from one amazing experience to another. Of course, it wears off at times, like when our madrichim takes us on a sea-to-sea hike just to find the bus, or when you’re desperate to go to sleep but there’s a drum and base rave happening outside your door.

FZY Tour is a once in a lifetime experience for all of us that we’ve taken so much enjoyment from, and will cherish forever. What is Tour all about? We’ve all had fun times relaxing at free time and enjoying time with our Tour, but these are not the memories that will stick with us forever. So, what will we remember FZY Tour for? It will be remembered as one of the best summers we’ve had, for the chance to connect with the Jewish faith and Israeli culture, to experience some of the country’s most incredible sights and activities, and for the bond we’ve forged with our fellow chanichim.

I can’t not mention that we’ve visited one of the worst places in Israel, and I’m not talking about the boys’ apartment after a 5-night stay in Beit Ar-El hostel. I’m of course referring to the Gaza Strip, where we got a glimpse at a strip of land where everyday people live in horrible conditions, and terror rules. What has FZY taught me about this place, and the ongoing battle Israel fights every single day? One of FZY’s mottos is the idea of pluralism, the idea that everyone can coexist. There may never be peace in our time, but if each of us can be sure that we are spreading the message of pluralism as far as we each can, we’ll make the world that much brighter.

One of the highlights of all of our experiences in Israel so far has to be the night out we spent in Ben Yehuda Street Jerusalem. For hours we ate great food, haggled with Israel shopkeepers and danced in the streets. Most importantly, at no point in the evening did we feel in any way unsafe. This encapsulates the spirit of Israel that we’ve all experienced. Yes, there are challenges every day, but life goes on. Life thrives.

FZY tour has been one of the best experiences we’ve all had, for countless reasons. For this we must thank our madrichim for planning all of our activities, looking out for us every step of the way, and pretending not to see when they spot us out of our bedrooms a few minutes after curfew. I’d like to finish with a motto they taught us, perhaps the one takeaway from this experience that will endure when all of the memories have faded. If you want it, it’s not a dream. Thank you for listening.

Pride 2017

peterOver the last few months, FZY have taken steps to improve inclusivity within the movement, and we are pleased to bring you this inspiring blog from Peter Strauss (Hadracha Bet and incoming Year Course participant), who shares words about his identity as we celebrate Pride this weekend. To everyone who will be attending the Pride parade, have a fabulous time – it’s a time to proudly celebrate our identities!

As I sit down to write this, I’m thinking about the recent dispute between Rabbi Dweck and parts of the Jewish community. While it is not my business to discuss why I do or why other people don’t support Rabbi Dweck, I do think that it has brought an issue to the immediate attention of the Jewish community. The issue of Homosexuality and Judaism coexisting and the issue of how Judaism deals with homosexuality.

When people ask me how long I know I’ve been Gay for it is a really difficult question to answer…. Yes, I came out as Gay to my friends in November 2014 aged 16 however, before I came out I had thought for some years that I might be. When I did come out to my friends, it felt like a secret that I had been carrying around for several years had finally emerged and a huge weight was lifted of my shoulders. However, I knew deep down that I still needed to tell the most important people in my life… my family.

For me there hadn’t been an issue telling my friends at school for the simple reason that not many of them were Jewish or had strong Jewish identities. Conversely, I was worried that my family wouldn’t have accepted my sexual orientation; there was this strange idea that the words Gay and Jewish could appear in the same sentence. I was completely wrong. When I eventually plucked up the courage to tell my family they couldn’t have taken it better. They were so pleased that I had told them.

With a little encouragement from my mother, I went to my first Friday night hosted by the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group (JGLG). It was a mind-opening experience meeting people who like me described themselves with the words Gay and Jewish in the same sentence. However, reflecting on that first meeting a few days later I still felt that I had a real issue with describing myself as both Gay and Jewish. Having leyned the verse:

“הִוא תּוֹעֵבָה,:אִשָּׁה מִשְׁכְּבֵי תִשְׁכַּב לֹא זָכָר וְאֶת”

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination”

I still felt like I was toevah [an abomination] for me I couldn’t see a link between the Gay part of my identity and the Jewish part. Through JGLG I was introduced to a Rabbi, Daniel Lichman, who helped me through this identity crisis and whom I am eternally grateful to. For me this is when I first began realising there was a connection between the two identities. However, it still took me another year and a half of research and reading until I finally came out on Facebook and to my parent’s friends.

When I think of my Jewish identity and Zionist journey there are various components that make it up but by far the biggest component for me was when I went on Israel Tour in Summer of 2015 with FZY #Tour8Turtles4Ever, and this was when I fell in love with Israel. Yes, I’d been before with family and even gone to summer camp there but this was different. I was thrown in the deep end of all different Israeli cultures and found the experience beyond rewarding. The biggest thing I realised was the diversity in Israel, take the two biggest cities in Israel. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Many people would say that the two cities are complete opposites… Tel Aviv the cultural capital of Israel with this amazing acceptance and vibrancy and then Jerusalem the religious capital of Israel steeped in history but with a much more closed of society. In general, the two cities have very different general stances towards the LGBTQ+ community. In Tel Aviv over 250,000 people attended the Gay Pride March making it one of the largest pride marches in the world. This compared to Jerusalem in 2015 where an Ultra-Orthodox Man stabbed seven people injuring six and killing one.

In September, I fly out to Israel to go on Year Course with FZY. I am really looking forward to this experience. We divide our time between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Many people would say that the two cities are complete opposites… Tel Aviv with this amazing acceptance and vibrancy and the Jerusalem steeped in history but with a much more closed of society.

For me being Gay and Jewish for a long time didn’t fit. But now having experienced and seen many different sides of Jewish life I’m beginning to find a way to put the two together. There will always be people who will say that I am toevah but there will also always be people who will say I am B’tzelem Elohim [made in the image of G-d] and as such will always be loved. I think that both have weighting in my life but thankfully I now feel more loved by the Jewish and LGBTQ+ community than I did but also able to use the two words to describe key parts of my identity.

Zionism Wins

An awesome story of Zionism.

Today, former Prisoner of Zion and current Knesset speaker, Yuli Edelstein, became the first Israeli to address the Russian parliament.

Donning a Kippah, he opened his speech in Hebrew;

“Thirty-three years ago, I was a prisoner, here in Moscow, by the authorities of the Soviet Union for the crime of teaching the Hebrew language.”

He continued speaking in Russian.

Edelstein visited the Archipova Synagogue where he and fellow Refuseniks (those who were not permitted to make Aliyah) used to covertly meet to study Zionism and Hebrew.

He also visited Butyarka prison, where he was held prior to being sent to the gulags. Here, Edelstein was once held in solitary refinement for losing his cool at a guard who found and broke his hidden Tephillin.

Edelstein also revisited the courtroom in which he was sentenced to three years of hard labour in the gulags.

Today, Edelstein addressed the Russian parliament in the same language that he was sent to the gulags for teaching. He was not allowed to express his Zionist identity, but today he stood as the speaker of the Knesset, the parliament of the Jewish State of Israel.

Zionism wins.

Credit: @yuliedelstein & @lahavharkov

One wall for all

FZY Shlicha, Dagan Livny, has penned some thoughts about recent events in Israel with regards to the creation of a permanent space for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel. Have a read and let us know your thoughts!

…And here they are, standing in front of it and breathing deeply, And here they are, looking at it with the sweet pain, Tears fall, and they look at each other bewildered, How can it be, how can it be that paratroopers are crying? How can it be that they’re touching the wall and are so moved? How can it be that from crying they switch to singing? Perhaps it’s because 19-year-old boys, who were born together with the establishment of the State, are carrying 2,000 years on their backs.”

These are the words from a song written by Haim Hefer shortly after paratroopers liberated the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War.

50 years ago, this wall became a symbol of unity and togetherness. Following this week’s cabinet decision to suspend a government-approved plan to establish a pluralistic prayer pavilion at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, we are faced with genuine concern that the wall is no longer that symbol of unity and togetherness, rather it is becoming symbolic of the intolerance and rifts that shake up Israeli society.

This decision affects Jews from across the religious spectrum from around the world. The sense among many diaspora Jews is that their models of religious practice are not recognised by the country’s establishment and this is a source of growing anger and frustration, leading to alienation, particularly amongst the younger generation. Because of this decision, could we see a reduction in support of Israel from around the world?

So, the question beckons, what should WE do about it?

Firstly, we need to continue supporting Israel in whatever way we can. We need to keep Israel at the forefront of our minds, knowing that it is and always will be the Jewish homeland. Even if we are hurt by this decision, this is not the time to disconnect, but it provides an opportunity to try and influence. This relationship between a diaspora Jew and Israel is what Zionism is all about.

But at the same time, we need be critical and make sure that our voice is being heard to build the Israel that we so desire. It’s an opportunity to bring criticism from love and care – see it as a teacher correcting a mistake in your paper. After all, if it is something you care about, it is not a waste of time to criticise it.

This is not a political issue, but it is an issue that directly affects pluralism and Zionism, and that is why I feel as though it is incumbent upon us all to be critical about it. For inclusivity of all Jews, at the holiest Jewish site, we need to have a place for those who wish to pray in an egalitarian way at the Kotel, as we do for those who wish to pray segregated.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” (Psalms 137:5).

So this is my message to you: do not forget about Jerusalem, but at the same time, make sure Jerusalem does not forget about you.

What do you think about this decision? Do you agree or disagree with what Dagan has written about?

50 Years On: Memories as a 6 Day War Volunteer

Barry Kester, former FZY member, shares his experience as a volunteer in the aftermath of the 6 day war. June 12th is the 50thanniversary since the first FZY arrival to Israel to volunteer.
To Barry, and all the other FZY Volunteers from 50 years ago, thank you!

On the 20th May 1967 I was at Wembley Stadium cheering on my beloved Spurs as they defeated Chelsea in the F.A. Cup Final.   Had anyone told me on that day, that just a couple of weeks later I would be in Israel working on a kibbutz close to the Golan Heights, I would have thought them crazy.

Two days later however, all the euphoria of that victory was dissipated when Egypt committed what was a clear act of war by closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.  Tension had been rising during the previous week as Egypt mobilized its troops and then moved into Sinai demanding that the U.N. peacekeepers be removed.  The blockade however, ratcheted up the tension considerably higher.

I was twenty-three when the crisis broke.  I was articled to a partner in a West End accountancy practice, and was due to take my finals in December of that year.  I was also very active in FZY and chairman of its Ilford group.

As the crisis heightened, FZY was called in to help with fund raising activities.  Every evening we would go from one shul to another helping to collect donations.  Sunday mornings we were out knocking on doors collecting more gifts.  No house with a mezzuzah on the door was safe from our attentions, nor did I ever leave a house without having received a donation.

There was an incredible atmosphere around at the time, for unlike today, as war became inevitable, the entire country was 100% behind Israel.  I had a “Support Israel” bumper sticker on my car and I remember to this day a garage attendant saying to me whilst he filled up my car, that he hoped we would really show those ***** a thing or two; that was how it was at that time.

On Monday morning 5th June war broke out.  As soon as I got to the office I asked my principal if I could go to the Zionist Federation offices in Lower Regent Street, to do whatever I could to help.  Luckily, my principal was Jewish, so he gladly gave his consent.   For those of you who may remember it, Rex House was an always chaotic place, but during that week, the chaos reached new heights.

The first thing I saw on my arrival was that outside, seemingly every Jewish cab driver in London was waiting ready to deliver messages, packages and people free of charge wherever they were needed.  Inside was bedlam.  Volunteers wanting to go to Israel and take over the jobs of the men and women now serving in the army, filled every bit of space in the building as they waited to be processed.

Fundraising was more urgent than ever and elsewhere blood donor centres were being set up.  All the while communiqués were coming in from Tel Aviv with war news.  I remember hearing the breaking news that the IDF had destroyed the Egyptian Air Force on the ground in the first few hours of the war.  BBC newsreaders initially did not believe it, but gradually it became quite clear that it really was true.  Then on the Wednesday came the news that the Old City of Jerusalem had been taken and there was not a dry eye in the whole of Rex House.  That was day also that the blockade was broken.

Later that day, together with about fifty fellow FZYniks I joined the ranks of the volunteers.  Once again I had to look to my principal’s goodwill and once again he came through for me.  The war ended on the Saturday and on the following Tuesday our FZY party was on an El Al plane to Tel Aviv. By the Friday, just ten days after it had been recaptured we were in Jerusalem, praying at the Western Wall.  I remember phoning home that evening  – no easy thing in those days – and the emotional call I had with my parents.

We were sent to Kibbutz HaGoshrim, a non – religious settlement in the north of Israel, some five miles beyond Kyriat Shemona in that spit of land between Lebanon and the Golan Heights.  We were fortunate in that the Kibbutz, as well as being an agricultural settlement also ran a guest house so we had decent accommodation and, joy of joys a swimming pool.  Our work routine was soon established.  Wake up was at 4:30am.  A quick wash, a mug of tea with some stale bread and then on to a tractor to work in the fields, picking fruit or cotton or building new paths around the Kibbutz.  At 8:00 it was back on the tractor to return to the dining hall for a proper breakfast followed by another stint of work until 11:30 when we would finish for the day and crash out round the pool.

The work was hard and not without its dangers. The fruit picking mostly involved placing rickety ladders against the acres and acres of apple trees and then reaching into the furthest branches of the tree to collect the fruit. None of us escaped from what became known as “flying ladders” as we tumbled to the ground, though thankfully no-one suffered anything more serious than a few bruises – and hurt pride.

Early one morning a group of us were in the cotton fields when we suddenly heard massive explosions from the nearby Golan Heights.  For one horrible moment, we thought fighting had broken out again but it turned out only to be the IDF destroying captured Syrian munitions, but it was a reminder that we were in a war zone.

Afternoons were filled with various leisure activities.  Courses in Ivrit were arranged as were soccer matches against volunteers from neighbouring kibbutzim.  I am still carrying the scars from one ferocious encounter with South Africans volunteers from Kibbutz Dan just up the road.  For the brave, the icy waters of the lake at nearby Horshat Tal was a refreshing alternative to the kibbutz pool.

Another example of the good fortune that befell our group is that amongst us were a few who were employed at Marks and Spencer’s head office in Baker Street and every couple of weeks they would each receive a large box of St. Michael foodstuffs which of course they shared around and provided a welcome break from the rather unimaginative kibbutz diet.

The kibbutz set aside one hut for us to use as our own communal meeting place.  Our group included people of all degrees of religious observance but we all agreed it would be nice to have a Friday evening service.  On that first Friday night, we gathered in our hut and began the service.  Suddenly, I was aware that we were being joined by some of the Kibbutzniks who were peering through the windows or standing by the open door, visibly moved by the sight of Shabbat candles and the sound of Sabbath songs that they probably had neither seen nor heard in years.

Another memory of that time is the music.  Within days of it ending, an LP was produced of songs of the Six Day War and it was constantly being played around the kibbutz.  One song in particular came to define that period, Naomi Shemer’s Yerushalayim shel Zahav.  Morning, noon and night, it seemed you could never go more than five minutes without hearing that haunting refrain.  The strange thing is, no matter how many times you heard it, it never seemed too much; even today, if my I-Pod is on shuffle, and that song comes up, I have to stop what I am doing and the memories come flooding back.

Because the war itself was mercifully short, before long the men and women who had been called up began returning home.  Whilst there was still plenty for us to do, the government decided that we should see as much of Israel as possible.

We were taken in an army jeep on to the Golan Heights.  There we saw captured Syrian tanks and the gun emplacements overlooking HaGoshrim.  We saw at once that they could probably have done enormous harm just by hurling rocks down on the kibbutz from that dominant position.

Then we went on a long trip to the south.  We stopped at Ein Gedi and bathed in the Dead Sea and then in the morning, before dawn, climbed the snake path to the summit of Masada where we witnessed the most glorious sunrise breaking over the fabled ruins.  From there we were taken through Beer Sheva and via the Negev to Eilat which was just a small village at that time. Other trips took us to the Galilee and of course in our free time we all explored Jerusalem and Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Suddenly it was October and it was time to return home after what were the most amazing three months of my life.  The nervous tension in the days before the war; the very real concern that Israel could be annihilated; the unbelievable excitement and relief as we learned of the recapture of the Old City and Israel’s subsequent victory. The tremendous camaraderie of like-minded young people working on the kibbutz, delighted at being able to do our bit for the country that we all cared about so deeply.

There is one other memory.  On a bus returning  to the kibbutz from Haifa where I had been visiting a cousin, I spoke to a young Israeli.  I will never forget his words.

“Surely now, after this massive defeat the Arabs will have to accept us. They have to, don’t they?”


This post has been republished with Barry’s permission and its original can be found here (hyperlink to

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