United Synagogue youth group Tribe on an Israel Experience tour
By Simon Rocker
If you take participation in summer schemes as a yardstick, British Jewry’s bond with Israel remains strong. Every year, around half or more of UK Jewish 16-year-olds set off after GCSEs on an UJIA-backed Israel Experience tour.
It is a figure all the more impressive since most will have been to Israel with their family before and, in increasing numbers, on a Jewish school trip as well.
But while educators may be gratified by the high take-up, they recognise Israel education today is a complicated business — certainly more so than in the golden days of the period following the Six-Day War. A generation with memories of the heroics of 1967 and the 1973 Yom Kippur War has a different experience from one growing up in the shadow of half-a-century of Israeli control of the West Bank, settlements and the absence of peace with the Palestinians.
It is not only history that is leading organisations such as the UJIA to grapple with change in their educational approach. They have also had to contend with factors such as university tuition fees, which have contributed to the halving of numbers on gap-year programmes in Israel.
Although increased enrolment in Jewish schools has led to more children being exposed to some form of Israel-themed content, UJIA trustee Ruth Green acknowledges that “Israel knowledge among young people is lower than we think it should be”.
One response has been the launch of Fast-Track, a one-year programme piloted this year among 20 sixth-formers. It involved intensive weekend sessions on Israeli history, culture, politics and society as well as a residential seminar in Israel.