Which Zionism is the author below talking about? He's talking about the one that took the land. You can't take the land and then turn around unrepentant and have some ostensible good deeds make it all better. You have to repent, okay? The Zionists were wrong. They need to admit it. Until they admit it in earnest with an eye to atoning, all the other stuff will just be obfuscation and insufficient.

Repairing the world

Members of Noam and Israel Activists show that Zionism can be about more than the interests of just one community
Seth Freedman
guardian.co.uk, Monday May 19 2008

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of Noam, a British Zionist youth movement of which I was a member from its inception. Under the umbrella of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, Noam has flourished over the years to become one of the largest Jewish youth organisations, and has taken a markedly different path from the more traditional Zionist youth movements.

Whilst promoting Zionism is high on its agenda, it also puts much emphasis on the concept of tikun olam (literally, "repairing the world"), which has led to some extraordinary offshoot projects undertaken by its alumni. One such scheme was the Tibetan Jewish youth exchange (TJYE), set up to forge links between Jewish and Tibetan youth groups and to provide support to each other in their respective endeavours.

Since 2000, there has been a steady stream of Noam volunteers heading off to the Indian town of Dharamsala, to work with the exiled Tibetan youths and help empower them in their struggle to achieve independence for their people. Noam graduates were also instrumental in founding an Aids educations programme for street children in Nairobi, applying the values inculcated in them by their Noam leaders back home to a situation that cried out for experienced youth workers.

Over the last few years, there has been a mass influx of ex-Noam members to Israel, myself included, which is testament to the power of the Zionist message we were taught during our formative years in the movement. However, rather than rest on our laurels and ignore our responsibilities to fulfilling tikun olam, we feel a collective responsibility to continue promoting the core Noam principles with which we grew up.

One recent immigrant, Naomi Magnus, has been working with the Darfurian refugees living in Tel Aviv, whom I wrote about in March. Less than two months since I met them, their economic and social situation has deteriorated markedly, and many are now struggling even to pay the rent for the meagre shelters in which they live. Naomi, along with three other Noam olim, decided to take action on their behalf and organise a fundraising event which would draw on all the resources to which the Noam network had access.

To that end, they have established an NGO, Israel Activists, which would undertake to assist worthy causes across the country, such as the Darfurian refugees. Their inaugural event is a two-day hike in the north of Israel at the end of May. Over 80 participants have already signed up, each committed to raising a minimum of $200, which will provide a massive shot in the arm for the refugees and their families and which will go a long way to prevent their eviction from their homes.

At the same time, Israel Activists hopes to use the hike as the launching pad for a far wider series of activities, including three-month activism programmes for British students spending their gap year in Israel. Whilst most year-course participants are only exposed to a saccharine, Jewish-focused side of Israel and its society, there is a need to open the students eyes to the darker side of life in the Holy Land, according to Nic Schlagman, one of the founders of Israel Activists.

"We want to work with any sector of Israeli society that is in need, be they Jewish, Arab, Druze, Bedouin or anyone else. It is imperative to provide the students with the necessary skills, motivation and experiences to help them continue their activism after their year in Israel - whether back home at British universities, here in Israel if they make aliyah, or anywhere else around the world. We believe in bringing contemporary Israeli societal issues to the awareness of young people, in order to create activists who are eager to effect change. Our mission is therefore twofold; firstly to raise awareness, and secondly to provide opportunities to make an impact."

Momentum is building behind the scheme, mirroring a sea change which has come over British Jewish philanthropy in recent years regarding the projects in Israel they view as most worthy of their support. The Pears Foundation - a prominent charitable organisation established by the Pears brothers, three British-Jewish property tycoons - has poured large amounts of money into causes assisting Israeli-Arab communities and fostering Jewish-Arab relations.

Similarly, the first Magen David Adom-funded medical station in an Arab village opened last year, with the bulk of the donations coming from a group of Jewish philanthropists from England. Tikun olam is increasingly being recognised by donors as not only a practical way to apply the values of Judaism in general, but more specifically a means of demonstrating to the non-Jewish citizens of Israel that they are supported in their struggles by Jews and Zionists alike and regardless of what they, the recipients, might otherwise have believed.

So it is with Israel Activists which, by taking on the cause of the Muslim refugees from Darfur, is following one of the central tenets of Judaism: "Love thy neighbour as thyself". All who take part in the hike, as well as all who support it financially from the Jewish community back home, are helping to redress the image of Zionists as caring merely about themselves and their own people's situation.

Once the activism programmes begin in earnest over the coming year, the potential for building bridges and establishing links between groups of young Jewish and Arab students will increase exponentially. The larger the group gets, and the more financial support it receives from the Jewish community in Britain, the more efforts can be devoted to breaking down the walls of silence that exist between the various sectors of society in Israel. And, when that happens, it will prove that Noam's joint principles of Zionism and tikun olam are by no means mutually exclusive, and that its members are applying those principles in a way which can only enhance the prospects of peace in the region.

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  • Tom Usher

    About Tom Usher

    Employment: 2008 - present, website developer and writer. 2015 - present, insurance broker. Education: Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science in Political Science. City University of Seattle, graduate studies in Public Administration. Volunteerism: 2007 - present, president of the Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project.
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