From Zimbabwe to Israel: An Ambassador’s Take on Global Service

UK Ambassador Matthew Gould wants to change the way Jews approach global service

His Excellency Matthew Gould CMG MBE

“Either you go out into the world or you do something Jewish back home,” related Ambassador Matthew Gould, presenting a dilemma he faced as a young Jew approximately twenty-five years ago. Speaking at OLAM‘s launch event at the Jewish Funders Network Conference in Tel Aviv this past March, the first Jewish ambassador from the United Kingdom to Israel addressed an audience of philanthropists, practitioners, government officials and service program alumni on the importance of fostering a conversation on Jewish responsibility to the developing world.

The ambassador recounted his volunteer experience as a young adult teaching for a year in a Zimbabwean school. The experience was moving, but he regretted it “had absolutely nothing to do with my Jewish identity.” “There needs to be a way of providing a Jewish frame for young Jews – in the US, UK, Israel or anywhere – to engage with the world in a way which emphasizes, brings out and sits in the context of their Jewish identity,” emphasized Gould. “Had I been able, as an 18 year old, to see that it wasn’t either/or,” he continued, “the experience could have strengthened my Jewish identity” and “been even more meaningful.”

Gould called upon the Jewish community to assume a greater role in meeting the world’s most challenging issues and to close the gap between being Jewish and doing global service. He declared “the idea that we have a responsibility to the stranger is absolutely part of our tradition” and it’s time to embrace “the idea of the Jewish people going out and doing good.”  “We as a group can sometimes be just a little inward-looking,” but Jews have a pivotal opportunity to announce, “we are not a people that are only concerned with our own issues . . . but we bear a sense of responsibility to the rest of the world.”

There needs to be a way of providing a Jewish frame for young Jews – in the US, UK, Israel or anywhere – to engage with the world.

Drawing upon his work with BIRAX, the Britain Israel Research and Exchange Partnership, Gould highlighted the role Israel could play in supporting the world’s most vulnerable populations. He dubbed BIRAX “the single thing, which I’ve been involved in here, about which I’m proudest.” BIRAX has “already developed for itself a brand in the scientific community,” orchestrating 15 large-scale collaborations between British and Israeli scientists and universities to research and cure chronic and deadly diseases. Gould said the reason BIRAX is “such a powerful model for relations is because it takes two areas where we are both excellent,” and enables researchers from Israel and the UK to “achieve more together than they can separately – and crucially to do so for the benefit of humanity.”

In similar fashion, Israel can play an important role in global Jewish service and development efforts. “Having a link with Israel in all this is not only important but potentially hugely valuable,” the Ambassador stated. “The spirit of innovation, creativity, disruption and chutzpah which comes out of this country – allied with pretty much anything – can give it enormous speed and momentum and strength.”

Gould, Seth, Lisa, Shoshana and Dina

The Ambassador closed his remarks with his own vision for OLAM. He emphasized, “There needs at the heart of this to be a sense of collaboration. This will be a project that brings together all sorts of different individuals and organizations and communities.” Gould concluded that, in uniting organizations, funders, and community leaders from across the Jewish spectrum, OLAM stands in a key place to “provide a model for Jewish involvement in the world and Jewish grappling with the global issues.” And to him, “there’s nothing more important.”