I cried over Brexit – but Israeli friends couldn’t understand my devastation

10 August 2016 – 6 Av 5776

Rabbi Leah Jordan
10 August 2016

Over the last five years as an American living in Britain, I’ve learned that one of the worst things an immigrant can experience is when something upsetting happens ‘back home’ and you’re not there for it.

Whether that’s a natural disaster, a political event or man-made violence, when something painful occurs, one’s automatic longing is to be with family and community.

Until Brexit, though, I hadn’t known that’s how I would feel when something happened in my new home… in the UK.

When I found myself in Tel Aviv during the EU referendum vote, and woke up to Brexit, I cried for the first time in my life over a national vote result. Returning to London yesterday, I’ve now found time to reflect on why.

I cried because I was for Remain, but even more so because I mourned how divided my beloved adoptive country had turned out to be, how estranged we were from one another and how racism and fear-mongering had won the day.

As someone who grew up in Kansas, the ‘sticks’ by American standards, I always bristled when Londoners said the rest of the UK was not like London. But the referendum vote proved that disconnect true, and it was painful to confront how many Leave voters were alienated and angry, that the struggle for opportunity and livelihood was so deep for so many people.

Being abroad during the nastier parts of the campaign was equally as difficult. I watched from my Tel Aviv summer flat as Nigel Farage, and others, made one disgusting racist, anti-immigrant, comment after another, culminating on the horrible day Farage released the ‘Breaking Point’ poster and Jo Cox MP was gunned down in her home constituency. I started to find myself longing to be in London.

But as I tried to talk to Israeli friends about my fear and, after Brexit, my devastation – I was surprised to find that none of them could understand it.

The more we talked, however, the more it became clear that Israel feels so isolated and alone in its region that the idea of being part of a multinational entity like the EU was not something they could imagine.

It felt and feels like a dark time. Brexit felt like the UK choosing isolation, and the Israelis around me felt they were isolated whether they chose to be or not.

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