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Peace and Conflict

OPINION: Why I returned to London from Israel

By Adi Peled, UJS Senior Shlicha for the Jewish News

In 2021, I embarked on a mission as a shlicha (education emissary) of the Jewish Agency for UJS, (Union of Jewish Students). For two years I have traveled across the UK, meeting hundreds of Jewish students and bringing Israel to campuses across the UK. From the very beginning, I knew that this journey would not always be straightforward, but the warm embrace and unwavering support from the student community fueled my determination to continue this vital role year after year.

On the day of the 7th October massacre which began this war, I was in Israel visiting family and friends. We already had plans on how to go out and celebrate Simchat Torah. We bought small flags for my nephews and nieces, chose a meeting place, and planned how to celebrate one of the most exciting and joyous days in the Jewish calendar.

The emotions I experienced when I woke up on that Shabbat morning are indescribable. It was a day that irreversibly transformed my – and Israel’s – reality. The images and phone calls from people in kibbutzim reaching out for help will forever be etched in our memories. 7th October is a date that every Israeli will remember. It marked a pivotal moment in our history, reshaping Israel, and Israeli society forever.

The feeling of helplessness and fear grew day by day, alongside a feeling of powerlessness – an urge to help those in need, but not knowing how. My days became a relentless cycle of monitoring news channels for any fragment of information, intensifying my yearning to contribute meaningfully. Friends and family were being drafted in large numbers, and my unease grew to the point where I could no longer bear to sit idly by and remain consumed by fear.

When I was in the IDF as part of my national service, I was a teacher working in boarding schools for vulnerable children. A non-combat, and voluntary role due to the sensitivity it involved. Because this was my role then, I wasn’t called to reserves at the start of the war with Hamas. Instead, I sought to find other volunteering roles in my community. This led me to join an extraordinary movement of Israeli citizens who selflessly abandoned their regular lives to support those who had lost everything and were evacuated from affected communities, alongside the hundreds of thousands who were called up to reserve duty.

Volunteering rekindled my connection to the remarkable spirit of our people and their unyielding dedication to the greater good.

While volunteering for my community in Israel, I still felt that there was a void that needed filling, accompanied by an overwhelming sense of “homesickness” for London and the UK. Then, a series of anti-Israel protests erupted in London, which deeply unsettled me. I witnessed the place that I had come to call home turn into a source of fear. Shocking videos of ‘kidnapped’ posters of children being torn down and inflammatory rhetoric flooded my screen.

I also received messages from students reaching out to me with a mix of solidarity and concern about the future of Israel and the prevailing climate on university campuses.

That void I felt continued to consume me. I felt a profound obligation towards the people and the community that had embraced me since day one, and now, more than ever, they needed my support. It was clear that that my reserve duty would be in Britain working as a shlicha, for the sake of my Israel and the students who had inspired me to relocate to England and undertake this mission two years ago.

Undeniably, working on UK campuses presents considerable challenges, marked by intense scrutiny and a wide spectrum of opinions. However, just as in the past, we must remember the fundamental reasons why this connection is so vital. Our shared history, our love for our people, and our deep-rooted culture must serve as our compass, uniting us against baseless hatred that has persisted for generations.

So, I took the difficult decision to leave Israel once again and come back to the UK. The parting from my family was far from easy, like a scene from a movie I had no desire to watch, but I was determined to leave no stone unturned in my commitment to return to London and continue working for my community.

This is the essence of my shlichut, my mission: you invest a portion of your life, you form a bond with a community that becomes a core part of you, and you selflessly contribute for a greater cause. This is the most significant and meaningful contribution I can make at this moment.