Opinion: The true meaning of ‘Achdut’

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Opinion: The true meaning of ‘Achdut’

Dual nationality, but one purpose: protests by Israel's olim against proposed judicial changes demonstrate genuine unity, solidarity and purpose, writes Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko for Jewish News

New arrivals: Olim at Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport this year (Credit: Yonit Schiller)
New arrivals: Olim at Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport this year (Credit: Yonit Schiller)

It’s a strange thing when you’ve lived half your life in one country and the other half in another.

You feel at home in both, you belong to both and yet they are different parts of your identity. And that’s the way I feel as a British Israeli. Sometimes those different parts of my identity manifest themselves even without my being aware.

Like the time when my team, where I was previously an interfaith director, told me: ‘that’s the most Israeli thing you’ve ever said’ (I think what they meant in that instance was that I was being pretty direct, something I actually like about the way Israelis communicate!)

Olim demonstrated outside embassy in Tel Aviv, March 2023.

So when your two identities collide, it’s the best of both worlds. You feel completely understood and in just the right place. And this has been my experience in recent weeks and months with Israeli ex-pats leading demonstrations against the judicial review proposed by the current Israeli government in Israel, supported by diaspora Jewry in the UK and elsewhere.

Politics aside, what has been incredibly inspiring is the way in which Diaspora and Israeli Jews have worked together and shown up for one another.

That shouldn’t be taken for granted: we Jews talk a lot about the unity of the Jewish people and being responsible for one another but in reality that isn’t always the case, as with any people.

Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko

Having lived in Israel for over two decades it was abundantly clear that the Israeli diaspora relationship was asymmetric, in that although Israel is at the heart of most UK Jews’ identity, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the opposite is true. And that’s completely understandable: Israelis often live in a pressure cooker given decades of conflict, to say nothing of army service, and the numerous challenges that have come with building a new state over the past 75 years; and diaspora Jewry for the most part just isn’t a high priority.

And yet – we have seen true partnership in recent weeks here in the UK and a greater coming together for the country we all love, at the heart of both communities. And that’s a wonderful and inspiring and very hopeful thing to witness.

We have participated in demonstrations with diaspora and Israeli speakers; we have shared tasks and ideas, we have received messages from the Israeli organising group in Hebrew and English; that in itself made me smile every time messages popped up on my phone.

We, the Jewish people, left Egypt together to become a nation in the land of Israel.  We stood at mount Sinai together, we also made mistakes together. In another week we will recount this tale of the birth of our national identity and at this moment in time I really feel the true meaning of ‘Achdut’.

  • Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko is an interfaith consultant for a number of charities. She is writing in a personal capacity.
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