Around the world for many Jews, a journey to learn about Jewish diaspora

The Upper Galilee Preparatory School trainees embark on a long journey, visiting various American and European Jewish communities, which have been suffering from the rise in antisemitism since October 7

Amid the increase in antisemitic incidents worldwide since October 7, a delegation of Upper Galilee Preparatory School students set on a journey where they heard from Jews in the U.S. and several European countries including Norway, Germany, Spain, Denmark, and Great Britain to see how they deal with the situation.
“Needless to say, every community, from New York to Spain, is heartbroken and consistently prays for the hostages and the IDF soldiers, but we were surprised to see how Jewish communities are prosperous," said Roy Caspi, a member of the delegation. "Whether due to the war or not, when we visited the different places, it was clear to us how united and strong each community abroad is.”
Following the shooting by the terrorist organization Hezbollah at the beginning of the war, the school's northern branches were evacuated. Naama Altman, who was also among the members of the delegation abroad, stated that "even though the communities are experiencing a significant increase in antisemitism and alienation from certain parts of society, they face and fight it every day in an extraordinary and inspiring way. The gap between the daily experiences of Jews abroad and the experiences of Jews in Israel lies in the various challenges they face. Israeli Jews deal with the direct consequences of the conflict, while Jews in the Diaspora face the indirect effects, such as antisemitism and exclusion."
According to Altman, "One can say that one of the main causes of the disparities is the fact that in Israel we live in a Jewish majority so the question whether my surrounding peers are Jewish is not present. On the other hand, most people abroad are not Jewish. there are different dilemmas diaspora Jews face on a daily basis, such as whether or not to present themselves as Jews in certain places, or grappling with the question of whether friends or, people from work support Israel or not. Hence the debate over whether to stay or leave in these environments is pertinent."
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Roy Caspi and Naama Altman, 'We realized that in the end, we all have a common goal'
Roy Caspi and Naama Altman, 'We realized that in the end, we all have a common goal'
Roy Caspi and Naama Altman, 'We realized that in the end, we all have a common goal'
(Photo: PR)
The Shvilim (meaning "paths" in Hebrew) program is an international program of The Upper Galilee Preparatory School (mechina), in which Jewish participants from Israel and the Diaspora learn together about the Jewish people in all its aspects. The participants visit Jewish communities around the world, where they learn about the lives of the Jews there and the challenges, they face due to their religion. The main goal of the program is to build bridges between the different communities of the Jewish people, in an attempt to understand and face the rising antisemitism and the anti-Zionist movement around the world.

"We are all one people."

When the question arises regarding the strength of the connection between the Diaspora Jewry and Israel, it is clear to the members of Shvilim that the relationship between Jews in the Diaspora and those living in Israel has enormous significance, the fateful importance of which they learned during their travels to the USA and Europe. "We realized that in the end, we all have a common goal, we are all one people and that's why we depend on each other, our different experiences influence each other," Caspi explained. "Israel relies on superpowers like the United States to protect itself, and to help preserve this there is a need for strong Jewish communities with influence and power throughout the Diaspora."
He noted that "Jews abroad need a safe home for them in case their situation in the Diaspora worsens, and that place is the State of Israel. Beyond the security relationship, the support we express to each other is of great significance, as there are other Jews around the world who also face challenges of various kinds. It is a symbiotic relationship, which will only work if both sides are aware of the need for this strong relationship."
"On October 7, we found ourselves in a difficult situation, because part of the staff was recruited and at the same time, they began to evacuate the four branches of the Mechina, in Amir, Kfar Hanasi, Ma'ayan Baruch and Baram," said Oded Stein, Director of the Upper Galilee Mechina.
"Over time, some of those who were recruited returned to the Mechina, and the branches in Kfar Hanasi and Amir also returned (the Maayan Baruch branch was moved to Kinneret, and the Baram branch was moved to Kfar Hanasi). Despite the challenging period, there was extensive educational activity, which included initiatives by trainees who understood the magnitude of the hour and engaged in action for Israeli society in general and the evacuees in particular."
He added that "the shared destiny between the Jewish communities abroad and the evacuees of the northern settlements is greater than ever. Everyone is fighting on their own front. We made sure to stay connected with the Jewish communities through Zoom conversations, some of which were even attended by senators from the USA. It is important to emphasize that since the outbreak of the war, we have come to know how important a personal example is, whether in enlisting in the army or national missions for the evacuees."
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Jews coming together
Jews coming together
Preparatory students during the program. 'There is a need for strong Jewish communities with influence and power in the Diaspora'
(Photo: PR)
"In the future, there is no doubt that we will participate in the restoration of the Upper Galilee," Stein noted. "We plan to continue operating, whether in branches that have already returned or in alternative sites. In any case, we have alternative plans in case the fighting increases, this is thanks to the connections we forged for the purpose of continuing educational activities (such as in Afkim). In my opinion, this is a religious war, both abroad and in Israel. Jews are persecuted in both cases because of their Judaism. It is good to see that the events only strengthen the bond among the participants and strengthen the connection between the communities abroad and what is happening in Israel."

"The situation is very troubling"

As mentioned, one of the countries visited by members of the delegation was Norway, a country that made headlines during this period more than once in terms of antisemitism incidents against the Jewish population, leading to a diplomatic crisis in Israel-Norway relations.
After the massacre on October 7 and following the surge in global antisemitic rhetoric and incidents after it, 32 representatives from Western countries including the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France, and Sweden signed a statement acknowledging the increase in antisemitism in the Western world, condemning it and calling on countries as well as social media companies to take action. Norway is the only country that refused to sign the statement.
According to Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide's statement, the Jews living in Norway feel insecure because of Israel’s actions in Gaza. In addition, Norway supported the lawsuit against Israel in The Hague and refuses to recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The Rabbi of the Jewish community in Oslo, Rabbi Yoav Melchior, testified that he had never experienced antisemitism on such a level in Norway before. "Unfortunately, the situation is very troubling. There is a wave of antisemitism that we have not seen before. We warned about it in the Jewish community already, a few weeks after the attack on October 7," he said. "We issued a very important announcement, there were many meetings on the subject. Since World War II we have not seen such an aggressive wave of antisemitism, even in the media. This is expressed in the things that people say against Israel, against Zionists and against Jews, things that were not said before and they would never have been accepted in the public discourse without a very harsh reaction.”
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שר החוץ של נורבגיה אספן בארת איידה
שר החוץ של נורבגיה אספן בארת איידה
Norwegian foreign minister at anti-Israel protest
According to Rabbi Melchior, there is an active dialogue between Norwegian Jewry and Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. Jewish communities all over the world experience antisemitism, but the community in Norway is relatively small and stands at about 2,000 people in total.
"The Jewish community in Norway is very involved in society in all fields, so we can be a bridge and be part of the conversation," he explained. "It won't help to say that everyone is antisemitic, because most people are not bad by nature, but are incited by others. Pointing to them and saying they are antisemitic will not solve the situation but will create more anti-Semitism.
He believes that "we need to reach out to the world and hold a dialogue that will ultimately lead to a change in the situation. Hatred is not fought with hatred but from a place of love." He emphasized in his words that it is not dangerous for Jews to walk around in Norway, and it is considered one of the safest places for Jews in his eyes: "I walk around with a kippah on my head and receive support for the Jews from the citizens of Norway, when in fact they are not against Judaism but against Israeli actions.
He admitted that "there are several members of the Norwegian Jewish community who are considering leaving for Israel. If people are shouting in the streets against the Jews, then there is a desire to leave," comparing it to Jews in Israel which can choose to leave the country if they do not like how the country is run. He warned and said that he might be tempted to leave if Norwegian society does not do more to fight antisemitism. "The Jewish community in Norway is indeed in a crisis, but I hope we will come out of it strengthened, because we feel part of Norwegian society, and this is a society that is open to the opinions of others," he added.
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