UJIA Annual Dinner 2017 ay Grosvenor House. (C) Blake Ezra Photography 2017 www.blakeezraphotography.com

In an evening that looked firmly to the future, the UJIA Annual Dinner brought home the charity’s vision of a strong British Jewry with a lifelong commitment to Israel. The flagship communal event raised £3.1 million for vital programmes in the UK and Israel, at a time when a strong bond with Israel cannot be taken for granted.
Dinner chair and UJIA trustee Rob Randall told 850 guests, “We are living in dynamic times. The environment around us is evolving and this directly impacts on us as Jews and the way that many feel about expressing their Jewish identity.”
Cyril Korn, 91, a veteran UJIA supporter, led cross-generational voices showcased in the night’s appeal film, and called on the community to take action:
“We need to do more. We have to raise money so that our children and grandchildren can feel Israel and Jewish identity is important for them too.”
Another voice, Simi Bennett, who led Israel Tour and Birthright educational trips, and is now Executive Director of Shaare Zedek UK, said:
“It’s clear to me that if we’re to remain a proudly Jewish, proudly Zionist community we depend upon the bonds that UJIA creates, on the programmes UJIA supports and on the people they develop.”
Communal leaders and distinguished guests, including Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, attended the flagship event at the Grosvenor House Hotel.
Young professionals, aged 21-35, made up an impressive contingent, with over 100 UJIA Young Patrons, youth movement leaders and programme beneficiaries present. Israeli philanthropists from the Jewish Funders Network also joined for the first time.
UJIA chairman Bill Benjamin announced in the welcome speech that he would be stepping down at the end of 2017 after five years of service, saying, “The work of UJIA is never done. The community must always devote itself to engaging young people with our national home and ensuring a lifelong commitment between British Jewry and Israel.” He named UJIA trustee Louise Jacobs as his successor, describing her as “immensely qualified to take on the role owing to her past successes in running communal organisations, her clarity of thought, ability to get things done, knowledge of the community and straight forward manner.”
Guests were privileged to hear from the former Chief of the General Staff of the IDF Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, who gave a strategic overview of the Middle East. He identified Israel’s strengths and accomplishments but said that the country looks to the Jewish Diaspora to partner in strengthening the fabric of the socioeconomic periphery:
“I see what you are doing in UJIA, all the projects you do in education, all the projects you do up in the Galilee. This is very, very important in strengthening Israel and it really takes me to the very fact that we are sharing the same ideas, we are sharing the same vision, we are nothing but partners.”
The UJIA annual dinner was sponsored by OurCrowd and Kirkland & Ellis.