Monday, July 23, 2007

Life in London

The decision to move to England has been one that I have been trying to make for the last few years. Taking the necessary steps to live in London for a short period of time has been a decision I will not soon regret, and it has opened my eyes in a variety of ways.

Despite the obvious culture shock that one experiences when moving to Europe, I have been exposed to and have tried to get involved in Jewish life in this city as well. Though many of my experiences thus far have been religious, I have been yearning for a political experience that would put into perspective the politically charged life I have been leading in Toronto.

Recently, my desires were fulfilled. I stumbled upon the rally held outside the Syrian Embassy in which hundreds of Jewish youth were protesting and demanding the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the Israeli soldiers kidnapped last year thereby provoking the Second Lebanon War. These rallies were held all over the world for the one year anniversary of this provocative act, and I was fortunate to attend the rally held in London.

I naturally approached this demonstration knowing full-well what a Canadian demonstration is like. Though a little hesitant to get too involved as I am still unsure how similar our methods are, I stood back and watched, considering the similarities and differences between the two countries.

Though differences were scarce, the similarity that instilled in me a great sense of pride was the tone of the rally. Of course the students were shouting for the return of the soldiers. They were holding large placards that read “Return the soldiers home”, in both Arabic and English, and many of the chants were comprised of similar sounding messages.

However, the tone of the rally was generally peaceful. Many of the signs that were held up said “Israel reaches for peace”, or “Israel demands a peaceful solution.” Additionally, the chants and songs they were singing were about peace and how if peace came now, then every problem would be solved.

It is this similarity in rallies all over the world held by Jews that makes me proud to be Jewish. Internationally, one can read about the surge in anti-Semitism that is currently taking place, and one need not look too far to find it in London.

Numerous studies here have shown that anti-Semitic incidents are far too prevalent in a city that continuously tries to preach tolerance. Additionally, in this same city which seems to increasingly be a launching ground for extremist Muslims to take vengeance on the Western world, they are all united by a common link of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment. Anti-Semitism still exists, and it is a growing problem.

Yet, this crowd of students, the majority of whom were visibly Jewish, united in the centre of the city of London to show their support for Israel and their Jewish brothers, demonstrating their desired to bring peace to the world, as it is the only answer that makes sense. There is no demand for military action or revenge; simply the urge for peace, in any form.

I do not write this because I am surprised. Nor would I expect any less from a group of Jewish students uniting in a common cause. I feel this way because I am proud, and because my experiences are largely limited to the Toronto Jewish community, I found a bond in the Jewish student community that must be fostered and nurtured.

When we stand together with a united message of peace and tolerance, people listen. As a last note, during the rally, one of Gilad Schalit’s relatives attended, and stood up to address the crowd. While half the crowd was singing, the other half was straining to listen to the man standing on the other side of the barrier expressing his joy at seeing such a display of Jewish togetherness. Suddenly, a police officer approached the man, and the thought that rushed to everyone’s mind was that the officer was going to tell him that he could not stand where he was, and that he was just being a further disruption. Suddenly, the officer handed him a megaphone so that people could hear what he was saying, and walked away so as not to intrude on this man’s few moments to speak. Amazing.

When the message is right, people will listen. This is the first lesson I have learned in London and I can only hope that further exposure to Jewish life will give me better perspective on not only how special the Canadian Jewish community is, but also on how truly unified the student community is in all corners of the globe.

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