LJY-Netzer is steeped in a rich tradition of social action. Time and time again- whether it is through charity work whilst on Tours, raising awareness whilst on camps or our set piece events such as Mitzvah Day; LJY-Netzer has long answered the clarion call to change the world.
We know exactly why – the desire to see innovative change in the world is a central figure of the Jewish story. Just as Moses answered ‘Hineini’ when called upon by God (literally for some, figuratively for others), successive generations of Jews have tried to answer the call to carve out a better world.
Therefore by making our TOTY (Theme of the Year) ‘Ani v’atah n’shaneh et ha’olam’ – You and I Shall Change the World’, we on LJY-Netzer continue this tradition which drives us forward. You could even argue that, because we on LJY-Netzer are so aware and proud of our social activism, this TOTY is a de facto theme every year.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t use the word ‘politics’ to describe our desire to change the world, nor shouldn’t we. The truth is that LJY-Netzer already makes a series of ‘political’ statements, although perhaps inadvertently; when we sign up to affiliate with ‘Everyday Sexism’, shouldn’t we push the government to pass tougher Sexual Assault laws? When we campaign for a Two State Solution, shouldn’t we lobby our political leaders to do so too? Of course we should, because these steps- although tied up in the ‘boring’ world of politics- really can help us change the world.Thats why this year ‘Ani v’atah n’shaneh et ha’olam’ carries a slightly different meaning for LJY-Netzerniks. The tagline for this TOTY is ‘Political Action’ and this reveals why it can be so bold and so different. For many years on LJY-Netzer, we’ve recoiled from the ‘p-word’ (politics) because of all its negative connotations. Many of these are well founded- LJY-Netzer should never ever seek to affiliate with a political party of mainstream movement because this would compromise the rich tapestry that makes up our members beliefs. Besides, which party would we join? Where would LJY-Netzer be on the political map? Both these questions are almost impossible to answer and rightly so – LJY-Netzer changing the world through politics shouldn’t mean pining on a Blue, Red or Yellow rosette.
The truth is that ‘Ani v’atah n’shaneh et ha’olam’ is a call to go beyond our comfortable boundaries of ‘social action’ and engage with the ‘political’ world we’ve traditionally been scared of. I think we can take inspiration from our parent movement Liberal Judaism, who in the last 2 years have led the way for non-party political action. In 2013, Liberal Judaism Chief Executive, Rabbi Danny Rich, actively supported the governments Gay Marriage Legislation and only a month ago LJ also signed up to the Living Wage campaign. Doing one did not make LJ ‘Tory’ no less than the other made us ‘Labour.’ In fact, these two bold moves were simply affirmations of what should be at the centre-point of LJY-Netzer: here are our values, let’s go out and change the world.
The Jewish community has always been one where ‘Ani’ v’atah n’shaneh et ha’olam’ and ‘political action’ have gone hand in hand. Some of the greatest Jewish figures throughout history have boldly innovated in the field we now call politics. In pre-modern Judaism, people like Moses and David stand out as leaders ready to actively shape their world. The world’s most pioneering anti-homophobia legislation came from Harvey Milk, an American Jew in the 1970s. In Britain, Jews have led both the Conservative and Labour parties, Benjamin Disraeli and Ed Miliband. Theodor Hertzl is perhaps the greatest Jewish visionary of them all.
Back in November 2013, a clip emerged of unlikely new signing duo appeared on Israeli TV- Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres, back in the mid Nineties, singing Arik Einstein’s iconic tune to ‘Ani v’ata.’ These two political leaders, both so divisive and derided, are perhaps two of the more unlikely candidates to be singing a song of timeless vision and idealism. Hence we on LJY-Netzer need to reclaim this song for our cause and our mission of social action and a utopian vision of how society should be.
LJY-Netzer has always been and will always be an optimistic movement that looks at what the world can be, not just what it currently is. This year, let’s take up the challenge of embracing rather than hiding our political side and realise that, although it has been said before, You and I shall change the world.
By Jonty Leibowitz