As world leaders gathered in London, George Rosenfeld explored a Jewish perspective.
Last week, I attended the Youth Forum at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, representing the Commonwealth Jewish Council (CJC) and Tzedek. The three-day forum brought together 500 young people, including ambassadors of the 53 member states and representatives of special interest groups and civil society organisations.
This year’s meeting comes at a fascinating time for the Commonwealth for two principal reasons. Firstly, post-Brexit Britain sees the Commonwealth and its 2.4 billion inhabitants as an essential platform for trade, influence and partnership. Secondly, with Prince Charles’ succession to be decided, the London summit was the perfect opportunity for Britain to flex its muscles, reasserting the value of a strong Commonwealth with the royal family at its head.
But the real significance of the summit as a representative of the CJC and Tzedek could be found in the meetings and discussions with international delegates in the wings of the conference. In these conversations, I explained that the CJC does not only look after Jewish communities but also explores how Jewish communities and organisations (such as Tzedek) can contribute towards the broader goals of the Commonwealth. The five key Jewish values and teachings which Tzedek espouses offer a perfect framework for the role we can play:
Ahavta et HaGer (love the stranger)
The starting point for any international or interfaith collaboration must be mutual acceptance and mutual appreciation. As a minority community, it is often necessary to build relationships where they don’t already exist (many Commonwealth countries host fewer Jews than there were delegates in the room). For some, meeting a Jew was an entirely new experience – one Malaysian colleague told me that at home the only narrative about Jews was as “oppressors of Palestine”, and he was pleased to meet his “first Jewish friend”. That his first Jewish encounter should take place in the collaborative context of the Commonwealth summit was powerful in and of itself and enabled a connection which may otherwise have been impossible.
Naaseh V’Nishmah (we will do and we will understand)
One step further than approaching strangers with love and tolerance is the skill of understanding. I was struck by the patience and reflective thought of so many delegates who listened not merely out of respect but out of a willingness to learn and understand. This attitude, which underlies Tzedek’s work, must be extended both ways – it would be arrogant and ignorant to suggest that I might appreciate the effects of climate change in the Pacific islands better than someone who lives there. To find effective solutions, we must be ready to listen and willing to learn.
The Commonwealth is unique in its constitutional composition granting equal status to each of its member states and making decisions only by consensus. In practice, it is impossible to equalise the voice of all members entirely, but this approach fosters an atmosphere of cooperation towards common goals. Tzedek, just like the Commonwealth, emphasises a commitment to partnership as an essential component of any project which it undertakes.
Lo Alecha HaMelacha Ligmor (it is not your duty to complete the work)
Within the broader context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which the international community is working towards (including ending extreme poverty by 2030), the work of Tzedek, like countless NGOs and social enterprises throughout the Commonwealth, is centred on a duty to do our part. While it can often be daunting to tackle such large-scale problems as extreme poverty, this attitude embraces the words of Edmund Burke, when he said: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”
One of the Commonwealth’s four key focuses is working towards ‘a fairer future’. In this case, we need to look no further than Tzedek’s name to see the evident parallels. This is the clearest reminder that our responsibility as Jews to pursue justice ties in heavily with the work of our counterparts around the world.
At first glance, the Commonwealth can appear to be of little relevance to Jews. But at a time when its influence is potentially on the rise, there is a lot we can learn from its framework of equality and collaboration. As Jews, we must recognise our responsibility to look outwards beyond our immediate communities. The Commonwealth is an excellent place to start.
George Rosenfeld, 19, is currently studying Russian and Arabic at Cambridge University and is the founder and director of charity a cappella group The 4 Sons. In December 2017, he visited some of Tzedek’s projects in northern Ghana with the Chief Rabbi’s Ben Azzai programme. He received the Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award in 2015 and an Outstanding Youth Delegate Award at the 2016 UN Youth Assembly.