Proudly Jew-AISH: How to secure the future of young British Jewry

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Proudly Jew-AISH: How to secure the future of young British Jewry

'If we do not provide vibrant Jewish alternatives connected with Israel, young people are going to drift away', Aish UK's chief executive Rabbi Naftali Schiff says ahead of its 36-hour fundraiser


One of the leading Jewish educational charities in the UK is launching a fundraising campaign to support its programming for young British Jews.

Aish UK has been providing Jewish connection to thousands of young Jews every year for more than 30 years. The organisation operates eight full time branches and provides educational opportunities at over 18 schools, 15 universities and 6 young professional hubs around the country.

Speaking to Jewish News, Aish UK chief executive Rabbi Naftali Schiff said: “The vast majority of what we do is bringing young Jews together to share life values, their life journey and to provide safe, inviting and warm places for Jews to interact on campus. Being a human being is all about human connection. It’s all about looking people in the eye.”

Aish UK sits on the Jewish Futures platform of eight ‘family’ organisations, (including GIFT, JRoots, Ta’amim and FJR, the Forum for Jewish Leadership), of which Schiff says: “There’s something for everybody wherever they are on their journey and we don’t want to impose any values up on them. It’s about giving young people in particular the opportunity to make an informed choice about their journey. The destination might not be that important, but be on the journey, be part of the story.”

Rabbi Schiff on an Israel Mission

Following the terror attacks of October 7th, Rabbi Schiff, whose own grandparents left Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power, says there’s been “an enormous spike in what we’re doing” and that Jewish students on campus “feel a sense of alienation, are confused and feel targeted. I feel that we are absolutely at a cross roads that the young people face a choice and if we do not provide vibrant Jewish alternatives connected with Israel, connected with being Jewish, they’re just going to drift away.

Proudly Jew-AISH campaign poster, March 2024

“Because it’s much easier to drift away in the direction of your university lecturer or the majority of the people you’re sitting with in the pub, the majority of the people you’re going clubbing with. If the Jewish community does not have dynamic, vibrant, powerful, attractive alternatives, we’re going to lose this generation.”

“The good news,” he adds, “is that they feel uncomfortable enough, some of them, to check it out before they chuck it out. There is a  genuine interest and thirst.”

‘Level Up’ Aish programme

With Aish educators on campuses including Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and Nottingham, Aish is “engaging with hundreds of Jewish students” through Friday night dinners, discussions and Hebrew lessons.

Following an anti-Semitic arson attack on the Aish Hendon offices in June 2006, Schiff recalls an uplifting visit by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks “to see the charred gutted building”.

Aish UK ‘Take Me Home’ Schools Trip

Schiff was “crouching down on the ground to pick up two halves of a Sefer Torah that had been ripped apart by the perpetrator” when Sacks said: “Naftali, I charge you to build bigger, stronger than ever before. That’s the Jewish answer to anti-Semitism.”

Aish UK’s chief executive says the fact there are some organs of Anglo Jewry that feel the most important thing to message over the last decade is antisemitism is “an irresponsible and pedagogical catastrophe.”

“If your kids come home and pick up a paper and the first twenty pages are about how they hate us, why would they be attracted to being part of this? I’ve always felt strongly about this. I want to say very clearly: we have to fight anti-Semitism, we’ve got to stand proud and we’ve got to protect. But surely in 2,000 years of civilisation, surely we have positive messages to give to our young people.”

Hence the theme of the campaign, Proudly Jew-AISH, “to combat the hatred and vilification on every side. Why would anyone want to be Jewish if everyone hates us?

“Is every festival really about everybody hating us? And if it is in 2024, then I’m out of it. Or, is there meaning, is there purpose, is there fulfilment, is there connection, is there aspiration, vision?

“And I think the answer is yes.”

To support the Aish UK ‘Proudly Jew-AISH’ campaign, click here.

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