An event staged by Five of Herts + 1, a grouping of Hertfordshire’s five smaller US communities – Potters Bar, Shenley, St Albans, Watford and Welwyn Garden City – and the plus 1, Luton, their Bedfordshire neighbour, brought the burning topics of the day to an audience who would normally have had to journey to London to hear such high-profile speakers. Mental health, dementia awareness, slavery and media bias were among the subjects examined by a line-up of outstanding presenters at the day-long event, “Encounters 18”, held at Yavneh College in Borehamwood (March 11, 2018).
Hit of the day was the moving presentation by Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn. Jonny’s story of how, seven years ago, he was pulled back from the brink of suicide on Waterloo Bridge by Neil, ‘the stranger on the bridge’, already well-known but bearing repetition, led into an account of how the incident has inspired the pair to devote a great deal of their time both to campaigning and to educating children and adults on mental health issues.
Another keynote speaker was the Israeli Embassy’s Udi Avivi, who described the efforts of the embassy’s media watchdogs to counter misrepresentation in the press and broadcasting, while award-winning stand-up comic, director and playwright Rachel Creeger discussed, among other aspects of Jewish humour, whether racial jokes are every permissible. Other thought-provoking and timely topics included Jewish involvement in the transatlantic slave trade (with comparison to our ancestors’ slavery in ancient Egypt) from Rebbetzin Ilana Epstein, head of project development at the United Synagogue’s Learning and Living department; ‘Did the Exodus really happen?’ from Aish UK Executive Director Rabbi Daniel Rowe; and a guide to how how communities can become more dementia aware, presented by Susan Dawson, Jewish Care’s dementia projects lead.