[Video] Rabbis speak at Israeli Democracy Rally

11 September 2023 – 25 Elul 5783

Rabbis Jeremy Gordon, Igor Zinkov, Charley Baginsky, Josh Levy and Margaret Jacobi of Liberal, Reform and Masorti Judaism at yesterday's Defend Israeli Democracy UK rally in Trafalgar Square (picture by Richard Bloom / www.tigerpink.co.uk)

Liberal Judaism CEO Rabbi Charley Baginsky (pictured centre) was among the speakers at this weekend’s Defend Israeli Democracy UK Rally in Trafalgar Square, London.

She was joined at the event (pictured L-R) by Masorti Judaism’s Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, Rabbi Igor Zinkov of The Liberal Jewish Synagogue, Movement for Reform Judaism CEO Rabbi Josh Levy and Rabbi Margaret Jacobi, who previously served Birmingham Progressive Synagogue.

You can watch her speech, or read it in full, below.

The rally was Defend Israeli Democracy UK’s most successful demonstration to date with 1,500 protesters from all walks of life – and including both Israelis and Brits – uniting in support of a democratic Israel and against the overhaul of Israel’s system of government.

Other speakers included the hugely-influential Israeli author and professor Yuval Noah Harari, Union of Jewish Students President Edward Isaacs, Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, journalist Mika Almog and former Meretz Knesset member Yair Golan. Rabbi Igor Zinkov spoke and blew the shofar. The event was hosted by Dr Sharon Shochat of Defend Israeli Democracy UK. You can read a Jewish News report on the rally here.

The full text of Rabbi Charley Baginsky’s speech to the Defend Israeli Democracy UK Rally:

I found myself when preparing for this afternoon looking back to the words I spoke at JW3 in March at a discussion following the elections and where I first met the organisers of this demo.

I left that evening buoyed, buoyed because usually when we speak about Israel in the communal setting it has the tendency to be divisive and aggressive and yet that evening the conversation was worried yes – but supportive and united and a sense of possibility of when we come together.

I cannot tell you the number of communal figures that have told me that this crisis in Israel has been one the most uniting moments (aside from antisemitism) in recent history. And yet here we are five months later and the situation is certainly not better, 41 weeks since Israelis have been taking to the streets the fear is growing daily.

The day before that talk at JW3 Professor Yuval Noah Harari said in the Guardian “there are moments in history when fear is the most sane reaction”. And here he is today still trying to make the people who need it not only hear it, but really listen.

As one colleague of mine, Rabbi Neil Janes put it, the living bridge – the Gesher Chai between Israel and the Diaspora is burning and as that bridge is burnt with it is the vision of the Jewish future.

Many of my members are the only Jew in their workplace, on their street, their children the only Jewish child in the class, they have a profound sense of being a minority and of their identity needing to be stronger and more secure in order to protect it and nurture it and to pass this gift on to the next generation… and there comes a line where the relationship with Israel is making that identity harder and quieter….

So one has to ask, would a more confident Jewish Diasporic identity look more appealing without a relationship with Israel, would there be more chance of future generations of practicing Jews were the relationship to be severed?

As a firm believer that we have to reclaim the terms religious and Zionist from a small minority whose views of either of those terms separately or together look nothing like the majority of us – I would passionately and vehemently answer no but I understand…

BUT: When you have an Israeli government that seems to be trampling over the values that proud confident Jews hold central to their identity as Jewish – freedom for minorities, including women, pluralist Jewish denominations the fear becomes more of a reality.

When there are attacks on the judiciary and a complete abandonment of the pursuit of peace that could lead to a viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and secure Jewish State the fear becomes more of a reality. When the incitement to violence is a standard part of the daily rhetoric…

When the Israeli government is actively telling you you are not welcome…

That fear becomes more of a reality…

Of course I know that there are Jews who have faced a barrage of abuse for sharing their thoughts and concerns for Israel, who now feel some validation and support as others recognise that the current government did not get there overnight, who are finding that rather than deciding a relationship with Israel is too hard or perhaps even identifying publicly and proudly as Jewish is too hard are instead feeling like a vital partner in raising up the voices and supporting all those who are taking to the streets in Israel and speaking up here.

They are seeing that those Jewish values which we as a community hold as vital keys to our Jewish identity are being raised up. There is in the words of Simon Schaema a passionate declaration of support for the enormous number of people [in Israel] who feel as anguished as we do.

But let’s be very clear that this is not only not a Progressive Judaism issue any more than this is a right or left one. Look at the streets in Israel and you will see that, look around you here and you will see that.

This is, as Professor Harari makes the case so clearly, a last salvage attempt to save Judaism.
As communal leaders in the UK we represent a huge coalition, partners I am so proud to stand alongside:
Defend Israeli Democracy UK
Jewish News
Arzenu UK
Habonim Dror UK
Jewish Labour Movement
Liberal Judaism
Masorti Judaism
Meretz UK
Movement for Reform Judaism
New Israel Fund
Noam Masorti Youth
Union of Jewish Students

We recognise that we have a profound responsibility not to miss the moment to join together and ensure that we are heard within our communities, outside of our communities and by the governments here and in Israel .

Arundhati Roy, the author of the God of Small Things writes: “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There is no innocence. Either way you are accountable.”

We are in that point of the Jewish year where the balance of the entire world sits in our hands, each action can tip the balance to the side of guilt and bring destruction. But conversely one action can also tip the balance of the world to the side of merit and bring redemption.

If we are to sincerely wish each other Shana Tova metukah – a happy and sweet new year, then we must all be the righteous that are the foundation of the world, the ones who acted righteously and tipped the balance of the entire world to good and saved it.

This is unlike any other moment in our history, we are facing the very real possibility of spiritual destruction, we are wrestling to save not only Israel… but Judaism.

  • Picture and Rabbi Charley Baginsky video by Richard Bloom / www.tigerpink.co.uk
  • Rabbi Igor Zinkov video by Yair Perry / Defend Israeli Democracy UK

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