Binyomin Gilbert (21, UK)
As I sit on my train back to London, I am reflecting on what has been a packed 4 days of political and communal activity. Honestly as a British Jew, I had questioned whether to go at all. Brexit is looming, my workload is mounting and I questioned what I would gain from this. I decided that if nothing else it would be a good piece of life experience, and an opportunity that doesn't come along very often, so I went.
Coming away now I realise not only my own naivety entering this but also my extraordinary arrogance. Or at least the arrogance that comes along with being a part of the British Jewish community.
Growing up in the UK I was educated to believe that Jewry in the modern world was centred in Israel America and Britain. That French Jewry is a troubled and oppressed group fleeing on mass to Israel, Canada and the UK and apart from a few scattered and small communities such as those in Antwerp and Switzerland. European Jewry is a thing of the past, the last remains of the former centre of diasporic Jewry, dying or dead, with little future.
My experiences this week have shown me how wrong I was.
On this trip not only did I meet Jews from communities in Germany, France, Belgium, and Spain, I also met young and brilliant Jewish activists from Lithuania, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Romania. I met American Jews living in places I did not expect and saw first-hand the future of the European diaspora. I went focused on meeting MEPS and activists, raising issues I am concerned about and trying to get my voice heard, penetrating the bubble of Brussels. To some extent I hope I may have achieved that, I certainly took advantage of this opportunity and have come away with an impressive stack of new contacts, however the focus of my experience ended up being the students around me. Speaking with those on the trip and those we met from the Belgian community, I got a sight of something I had never seen. And I was inspired. We met diplomats from Romania, and saw the instrumental efforts they are making to tackle antisemitism in their country. I heard the voices of Jews from Romania and saw them challenging their representatives. I met policy makers with a deep understanding and sympathetic ear for Jewish problems, heard my colleagues raise the issues they face and I stood, for the first time in my life, in true solidarity with my Jewish brothers and sisters from across Europe.
This trip drew my attention to how much the British community has let itself and our European brothers and sisters down. Britain is not the biggest community in Europe, but it is highly developed, and it is often the loudest. This can mean that British Jews focus inwards, thinking about their own considerable issues, antisemitism, BDS and the need to improve representation among a host of others. These issues are all important but there are communities across Europe struggling with similar problems. There are communities working to rebuild, there are communities with serious issues and they need us. And we need them. We are a part of European Jewry and we should be ensuring that these ties are strong.
To some extent activity is occurring, we heard from the EJC how the Jewish community is being assisted with security problems by the Community Security Trust, how the overarching bodies representing each of the 42 Jewish communities, meet regularly under the European Jewish Congress to discuss their shared issues, but we need to be standing closer, we need to be making ties on a grassroots level, from childhood through to old age, we must stand in solidarity together and amplify one another's concerns.
Throughout the trip we heard from a multitude of NGOs and MEPs about the need for intersectionality. The need to stand firm as minorities united. This is no easy task. Each alliance has to be made despite a host of conflicts of opinion and political and ideological strains. And yet this is vital. The message from Brussels is the same one as from London, Jews are facing threats and we must stand up, but we must also not stand up alone. I met allies, in high places, allies I did not expect. I met inspiration in forms I hadn't foreseen. Whether it was Terry Reintke, a young and relatable MEP with an incredible ability to blow apart the traditional image of the opaque, uninterested and overly bureaucratic old men the words European Parliament brings to mind, Alfiaz Vaiya who works tirelessly to fight antisemitism, islamophobia, racism, anti-gypsyism and other issues of racism and discrimination, or the Head of the Commission on Antisemitism, Katharina Von Schnurbein, who not only presents an encouraging level of understanding of issues majorly concerning to Jews in Europe but also asks for student voices, taking down in intensive detail, notes on the problems I have seen on campus. These are people I owe a debt to, people who truly do not stand by, people who live for their principles and give me hope and inspiration.
I am returning with new friends, spread across Europe, working for the betterment of the Jewish experience in this wing of the diaspora. Working together, hand in hand, an alliance stretching across Europe. Beyond borders, beyond politics. We are the future and together we are strong.
Benny Fischer said we are the ones who grew up behind bulletproof glass, this is true, we have watched this horrific reality creep up, we have watched hate rise but together we will fight and together we will overcome obstacles. I came into this very much in the camp of those that see little future for European Jewry, I don't want my children to grow up behind 10 foot walls, used to security barriers and armed guards, hate is on the rise against Jews and normalisation of that hate concerns me. That has not changed for me, but I appreciate now what we are fighting for in Europe, I appreciate now the breadth of Jewish communities and these people are who we fight for, during this trip we met the present leadership, but we came as the future and the future is bright.
I have been inspired and I am eager to get back to work. Thank you to EUJS for this opportunity and thank you to everyone I met for showing me how much more there is to be done, and just how strong we are when we are together.