YOUNG ADULTS - Reports on activities

6TH B’NAI B’RITH EUROPE YOUNG ADULT FORUM IN LONDON

Forum 1
From L to R: BBE President Ralph Hofmann, Simone Hofmann, Rabbi Andrew Steiman, Director BB World Center Alan Schneider, BBI President Allan J. Jacobs, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, Gilad Schalit, Israel Ambassador Daniel Taub, Chair of BBE Young Adult Commission, John Reeves, Former BBE President Graham Weinberg and BBUK National President Jean Etherton.

(Article by Jean Etherton, BBUK National President)

Forum 2

Gilad Schalit was a special guest at the 6th annual Young Jewish Adult Forum, held in London on the weekend of 16th-18th November. Over 170 young people, aged between 25 and 45 converged on the Britannia Hotel in Primrose Hill, Hampstead to attend what turned out to be a hugely successful event. It was organised by B’nai B’rith Europe in conjunction with B’nai B’rith UK.

The Forums are designed to provide a packed weekend for participants from (this year) over 20 countries, including the US, Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia and Serbia. The proceedings were co-chaired by Valerie Achache and Simon Weinstein, both on the organising committee, with the emphasis on social and professional interaction, combined with input on the ethos of B’nai B’rith.

 Combining in-depth discussions with an opportunity to socialise with their peers, the Forum offers an opportunity to meet and interact with others from all over Europe, to discuss the issues that matter to Jews today and it provides an insight into B’nai B’rith’s work and values. The programme, this year, embraced speakers, panel discussions and workshops, in addition to social events and a city tour of London Jewish sites.

Gilad Schalit was accompanied by Alan Schneider, Director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, as well as a personal friend, Ben Drori. His visit coincided with the escalation of the situation in Gaza when, following a relentless barrage of rocket attacks into Southern Israel, Ahmed Jabri, head of Hamas’ military wing, who was personally responsible for countless terror attacks against Israel, was killed. This was clearly a time of great anxiety for all.

There were many people and organisations who had campaigned hard for Schalit’s release, including the delegates from a previous B’nai B’rith Young Jewish Adult Forum in 2010, who all signed a petition demanding his immediate release. This petition was then delivered to the International Red Cross in Geneva by the guest of honour at that Forum, Mr Hillel Neuer of UN Watch. 

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Warm reception at Foreign Office

Prior to the start of the Forum, Gilad was warmly received at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by Alistair Burt, Minister for Middle East and North Africa together with Alan Schneider, Ralph Hofmann (President of B’nai B’rith Europe), Jean Etherton (President of B’nai B’rith UK) and John Reeves, (International Vice President of B’nai B’rith International and Chair of the BBE Young Adult Commission). Mr Burt mentioned that not a month had passed without questions about Gilad being asked in Parliament and, in this way, MPs had ensured that his name was kept at the forefront of public attention. Mike Freer, MP for Finchley & Golders Green, was also present.

Gilad was also invited, together with the B’nai B’rith delegation, to a private meeting with Ambassador Daniel Taub at his residence. To the surprise of those attending on behalf of B’nai B’rith, they were joined by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks. Both the Chief Rabbi and Ambassador Taub spoke movingly and personally to Gilad with heartfelt words. Afterwards, the Ambassador had arranged for around 40 people to meet Schalit who, individually or as part of an organisation, had campaigned for his release. They included the licensed London cab driver who had arranged to have Gilad’s photo emblazoned on a fleet of London taxis. Gilad was able to thank all of these people individually.

A number of leisure activities were arranged for Gilad, including a tour of London tourist sites. As it was his first trip to London, he enjoyed this very much, particularly visiting the London Eye. As a keen football fan and sports writer for an Israeli newspaper, he was also taken to the Premiership game between Arsenal and Tottenham.

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Source of great excitement

His presence at the Forum was a source of great excitement and he was warmly received by all the delegates, who quickly welcomed him into their midst, after his understandable initial reserve.

This year’s Forum opened with a Friday night service at the nearby South Hampstead Synagogue, where Gilad was warmly welcomed, A festive Friday night dinner followed, with introductory welcome speeches from the Co-Chairs, BBUK and BBE Presidents and an address by Ishmael Khaldi. Mr Khaldi is a Bedouin and his unique story of transformation from his village roots as a shepherd boy born in Western Galilee to being the Counsellor for Civil Society Affairs at the Israel Embassy was both fascinating and inspirational. The attendees were also honoured to be addressed by B’nai B’rith International President, Allan Jacobs. The after-dinner socialising was Gilad’s first opportunity to engage with the participants properly.

However the Gala dinner on the following evening with a live band was a glittering affair and, when Gilad ventured onto the floor to dance, he was joined by a throng of young people and suddenly the room was full.

During the dinner, BBE President Ralph Hofmann expressed his grateful thanks to the organising committee, mentioning Jean Etherton, Simone Hoffman and John Reeves for their work in ensuring the success of the Forum.

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Honorary membership of B’nai B’rith for Gilad

An appropriate seal on the evening’s proceedings occurred when Gilad was presented with Honorary Membership of B’nai B’rith and he made a short speech of appreciation and thanks in Ivrit (which was translated by BB World Center’s Director Alan Schneider into English)  There is no doubt that by the end of the weekend, Gilad had gained many new friends with whom he ventured out to enjoy London and he also seemed to have gained in confidence.

Earlier, the Saturday afternoon session consisted of an inspiring address on Israel’s current crisis by Dan Mariaschin, Executive Vice President of BBI; a panel discussion on the theme of ‘Disobedience’ by three very diverse speakers: Dr Margaret Brearley, an expert on  Jewish/Christian relations,  Rabbi Andrew Steinman, an educator from Germany and Hagai Segal, an expert on Middle East affairs. The three excellent speeches, as well as the introductory and concluding remarks by Co-Chair Simon Weinstein, were highly regarded by a very attentive and full audience and provoked some interesting questions.

These were followed by a workshop on the activities and values of B’nai B’rith given by Sylvia Lewin, a former BBUK National President, Alan Schneider, Director of the B’nai B’rith World Center based in Jerusalem, BB Europe’s President Ralph Hofmann and Raoul Beck from Geneva.

Chair of the BBE Young Adult Commission, John Reeves commented: ‘We are extremely happy because of the many positive feedbacks we have received from the participants.” During the course of the Saturday afternoon plenary session John presented the Maureen and John Reeves Award to Jewgenij Singer and Dr. Adrian Strack, young members of the Frankfurt Schönstädt Lodge, in recognition of the excellent work being done by the lodge in support of youth activities. This award, presented every second year during the Young Jewish Adult Forum, is designed to encourage European Lodges to strengthen their efforts in encouraging younger people to involve themselves in the work and ideals of B’nai B’rith, so important for the future of this organisation

President of B’nai B’rith UK, Jean Etherton, said: “The weekend was a great success, from the enthusiasm of attendees during the discussions and the excellence of the speakers, to the sightseeing tour – London Highlights and a Jewish Journey (three coaches full) - and the festive dinners. One delegate was overheard commenting: ‘... this is the best Jewish event that I have ever been to’!

Gilad’s presence was a symbol of hope for Israel’s aspirations for peace and security and a courageous example to all who were present.”

Simon Weinstein, Co-Chair of the Forum, concluded: "People were beaming with joy. For sure, the participation of Gilad and Ishmael elevated this forum to a different level and made people feel really privileged to attend the forum. However, all speakers and the programme overall were just exceptional. B'nai B'rith was very generous and spared no effort to show its commitment to young adults, to let them feel how important they are to B'nai B'rith. I hope that participants will use their excitement and give back by volonteering with B'nai B'rith."