“It was a great privilege to meet a group of such passionate and talented leaders from across Europe and to hear of their inspiring work, grounded in Jewish values, yet impacting positively on people of many faiths and backgrounds all over the world. They are a living example of the Jewish renaissance happening in Europe and represent what I call a Judaism unafraid to engage with the world. I wish the members of Siach continued success in all they do.”
U.K. Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
On Wednesday 9th and 10th May Pears Foundation’s JHub hosted a gathering of over 35 social justice and environmental professionals and activists from across the continent and beyond [UK, France, Hungary, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Chile, Australia and the USA]. The group included those working, inspired by Jewish values and experience, on issues such as Asylum, Genocide, Climate Change, International Development, Human Rights and Fairtrade. This regional gathering was in preparation for the second global Siach conference taking part in Israel in June.
The gathering began with an evening reception hosted at residence of Chief Rabbi Lord Sack’s and Lady Sacks, where the Chief Rabbi shared his thoughts on the Jewish imperative to be engaged with acting for a fairer and more sustainable world for all humanity. One highlight included the Chief Rabbi citing his encouragement of UJS to be at the forefront of combating Islamaphobia on campus as an example of ‘paradoxical intervention’. It was suggested this approach is one we could all employ more often, rejecting fear and surprising people with our positive hope filled responses to the challenges of globalisation. Reflecting on his recent series of books, Lord Sacks enthused the crowd with Abraham’s example of Faith as protest and the sense that Judaism is about asking the challenging questions about how we bring more Justice and Righteousness into the world as partners with God in perfecting creation.
The following day the group participated in sessions exploring how Jewish social action allows us to offer a reinvigorated and forward looking expression of Judaism for our young people and communities, one that recognises we want to inspire people with Jewish heritage yet at the same time equip them to be active in wider society. There were also practical workshops where existing collaboration across Europe and the Jewish world were highlighted and new ideas for projects developed. Simone Abel, Director of Rene Cassin shared her experiences of the global Siach network, including joint work with Hungarian counterparts connecting Jewish and Roma communities in the fight against xenophobia and adapting a development programme for European Human Rights Activists into an international fellowship with peers in the States.
Julia Itin from Germany joined a panel with Amy Philip, deputy director of Pears Foundation and Jonathan Boyd, Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, discussing the current opportunities and challenges facing European Jewry, based on a range of recent studies. The panel and the group may not have agreed if there is a clear sense of what European Jewry is, but the overwhelming positive examples of innovation and social action across the continent were heralded as cause for optimism that the quality of Jewish life in Europe is vibrant and diverse.
The current economic and political realties in Europe shaped some of the conversation, as the group sought to articulate what part of the European contribution to the global Siach network may be. It was clear that protecting vulnerable groups during this time of austerity, offering a different economic narrative, combating fascism and embracing diversity are areas of activity where the European experience may offer useful insight and existing projects within the global social justice and environment conversation Siach is fostering globally.
According to Itin, “While in entrepreneurial America the Jewishness is mainly based on individual and in national Israel mainly on the Jewish State, in Europe – after the recovery from communism and Shoah – Jews are developing in more than a few exiting directions. Siach Europe is the European platform to learn and to discuss about new exiting ways to build this community – vital, pluralistic and fully engaged in the wider society.”
photo credit Oliver Marcus