The notion of holding a Balfour 100 Shabbat came from the ‘We Believe in Israel’ organisation, which had mentioned the idea in late 2016. There were numerous events planned, in the year run-up to the official centenary, culminating in a countrywide ‘Balfour 100 Shabbat’ event to mark the Balfour Declaration in various ways across UK communities on 4th November 2017.
I had recently rejoined the Norwich Hebrew Congregation, from the Liberals, and wanted to give something to the community by way of organising an event. When I’d read the Balfour 100.org site and heard that UJIA could offer funding to help, I approached the NHC President, Marian Prinsley, who took the idea to the NHC committee. The committee passed the idea and we set about organising.
Slowly, over the months we met at organising meetings, filled out forms, organised a speaker, applied for and received funding, bought items and food for the lunch, got together flags and bunting, display boards, the posters from Balfour 100.org. It was like an exciting countdown to the day!
People baked, cooked, set-up, before the Sabbath, with ovens left on low, as the smell of delicious food pervaded. We had Chris, our invaluable washer-upper, to help us keep Shabbat and take some pressure off. We served a community meal, which we were able to offer for free: lovely beef, jacket potato and vegetables with a parveh fruit salad and soya cream.
We were lucky enough to secure Luke Akehurst, from ‘We Believe in Israel’ for our talk. He kindly travelled up from Oxford and his expenses were funded by We Believe in Israel. Luke joined us for lunch and was moved by the singing of the Grace After Meals Prayers and the sing-song after lunch.
It was lovely to see our communal hall full, with people being able to catch up and enjoy a lunch together. In difficult financial times, I’m sure the fact that the meal was subsidised, and thus offered for free, was a great help to some.
After lunch, we adjourned to the Shul to hear Luke speak. It took some time to get people settled…as is ever the way! The community was joined by members of CCJ and East Anglian Friends of Israel and other invited guests.
Luke gave an informative talk. He covered the historical build-up to modern day Zionism, the events which led to the urgency in finding a haven for the world’s Jewry. He covered geo-political aspects, both past and present and included the contentious issues over the Balfour Declaration, deftly and fairly.
Luke brought a sense of support and understanding. I believe that there is a time and space to hear all sides and all narratives in conflict situations, but it is also ‘ok’ to have a space for committed Zionists to hear a positive angle on a wonderful endeavour, which is often maligned, Israel. Most of British Jewry can feel that they constantly have to buffer and fight off antisemitism, the seemingly relentless demonisation of Israel and from all angles. Therefore, it means a lot that there are many non-Jewish people who feel the same and ‘have our backs’, so to speak, Luke being one.
Luke took questions fielded by our President Marian as well as from the CCJ, East Anglian Friends of Israel, The Liberal Jewish Community and our own members. As is usually the case, we did not have enough time for everyone. There is much to do, but coming together and being educated together in a communicative environment can only help forge future peace initiatives and support existing ones.
Our thanks go to Luke Akehurst, who brought a much needed morale boost to our community here in Norwich. He comes across as cogent, informed and compassionate. This makes for speakers who are approachable, equitable and sorely needed. Thank you Luke. Yishar koach! More power to you!
As a relative ‘newbie’, in rejoining NHC, I want to say how grateful I am to NHC for supporting this event. It’s a great feeling to feel useful and at home again.
It was a wonderful team effort: The whole of NHC and its committee. Special thanks to Marian Prinsley (President); Fay Cadywould; Poppy & Nick Simons; Maureen & Barry Leveton; our security team Michael Wolf, Todd Parker and John Cadywould.
Of course, we wouldn’t have been able to put on such a warm, informative, full and festive event without UJIA support: practically, via email, sending the posters, and financially.
UJIA support, (and that of We Believe in Israel), allows communities like ours to feel part of the bigger picture; that we have something worthwhile to contribute; that we’re not alone and that can mean more than words can express.
Our sincere thanks also to Jessica for all her hard work in organising this celebration of the Balfour Declaration and for writing the above report.
Our speaker at the Balfour 100 event was Luke Akehurst, the Director of We Believe in Israel since 2011. For more information please check out their website: http://www.webelieveinisrael.org.uk/