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What Israel means to Jewish people in Northern Ireland - and did Prince William's visit show it in better light?

The future King's trip to the Jewish State - the first by a member of the royal family - was lauded internationally, but how did Jewish people in Northern Ireland feel about it?

By Leona O'Neill

Last week Prince William made a historic visit to Israel, long known as the homeland of the Jewish people. It was the first official trip by a member of the British royal family to the country. The 36-year-old was welcomed as a "prince and a pilgrim" by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and given just as warm a welcome in the Palestinian Authority by President Mahmoud Abbas when he travelled to Ramallah.

The Duke of Cambridge visited the Yad Vashem memorial, a Palestinian refugee camp and school, and met locals on the beaches of Tel Aviv.

The non-political visit was carefully choreographed to negotiate the diplomatic minefield that surrounds the region and was seen by many in the Jewish community here as a "welcome blessing".

Here, three Northern Ireland Jews talk about their faith and what the prince's monumental trip to their spiritual heartland really meant to them.

Boston-born Becca Bor (33) has lived in Londonderry for four years. Brought up a Reform Jew, she does not attend temple anymore, partly because the only Jewish synagogue in Northern Ireland is 75 miles away in Belfast. She says:

I was brought up in Reform Judaism. Orthodox Jews would believe that the word of the Torah (the five books of Moses) is the word of God. Conservative Jews would believe that when Moses wrote down the word of God there was human intervention. Reform Jews believe that the Torah is the oral history of the Israelites and the Jewish people that was written down by humans. Because of that, there is more leeway in how Reform Jews look at the scripture.

When it comes to rules like being kosher, for example, every Orthodox Jew is kosher. However Reform Jews, some of them are and some aren't. So it's really choosing things that you think are most important from the Torah.

For example, my family wouldn't have observed kosher, except at Passover - which occurs in the eight days around Easter - so we wouldn't eat any leavened breads or cereals and we would observe the rituals around that holiday.

I don't go to a synagogue or a temple. There are none in Derry.

There was one in the Fountain estate many years ago, but it has long since been abandoned.

I haven't been to temple in a long time, I stopped going several years ago because I disagreed with a lot of political stances they were taking, but I still celebrate holidays with family. I still consider myself Jewish and I enjoy the holidays and the different stories in the scriptures and saying prayers with my family.

I strongly disagree with the actions of Israel with regards to Palestine. Prince William should have refused to go there.

When the Prince went to Israel he went there in one way as a reaching out to the Jewish community.

But I was actually disappointed by that because I think that he shouldn't have visited. I believe Israel is an apartheid state. One of the things that has been so frustrating is when people only see Israel as an extension of Judaism. I was brought up thinking that myself, that Israel was the homeland of the Jewish people. This is what we learned in school and in our temple.

But I think that I'm part of a generation of young Jews, and this is particularly true in the US, who are more and more disgusted by what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. We want nothing to do with it. We don't think that it speaks for Jews at all. The actions of the Israeli state against Palestinians is hurting Jews globally.

We think that Israel should not just be a country for Jews, but for everyone who lives there.

I think that Prince William should have refused to go to Israel."

Retired furniture store owner and Belfast woman Margaret Black (67) is an Orthodox Jew and also a member of the Belfast Synagogue. She converted to Judaism before she married her husband Michael 40 years ago. She says:

I go to synagogue about once a month. There is a service every Saturday morning for the congregation.

Women do not take part in the service, it's only men because the community here is Orthodox.

I'm not overly religious. I don't eat pork and shellfish and we keep kosher at home. I don't eat meat anyway, but I cook for my family.

The animals are actually slaughtered in Ballyjamesduff then brought to Manchester and I phone in an order with the kosher butcher shop there and it is delivered to me in Belfast.

My faith means a lot to me. I find it hard to put it into words. It's who I am now. I was born into the Protestant faith, I converted to Judaism shortly before I got married around 40 years ago. I don't suppose it has altered me much as a person, I am still the same person, but because I'm a member of the Jewish community and my husband is the chairman of that community, we would be very involved in Jewish life. But we are a very small, elderly community now.

Prince William's visit shone a light on the modern and vibrant state of Israel.

I thought it was terrific that he took the opportunity to visit Israel. It was a landmark visit because the royal family haven't been before.

I'm so glad that he went and that he learnt a lot from it.

Israel is a wonderful country and anyone who gets the opportunity to go and visit should do. I have been there 10 times. Israel is a modern, vibrant, forward-looking country.

So it is special that Prince William went there and shone a light on it."

Dr Dennis Coppel (82) is a former consultant anaesthetist at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He is an Orthodox Jew and a member of the Belfast Synagogue. He says:

I'm an Orthodox Jew. I go to the synagogue once a week, every Shabbat, every Sabbath. At the moment there are services only twice a week, on a Thursday morning and on a Saturday. There is only one synagogue in Northern Ireland and it's an Orthodox Synagogue on Belfast's Somerton Road.

I was born into the Jewish faith.

My mother and father were both Jewish. When I was growing up in Belfast there were around 1,500 Jewish people in our community.

Now there are only around 80. We had young people who left here, went to university and didn't come back. The community itself was aging. We then had 30 years of our so-called Troubles, which played a big part in people leaving to go and live in Israel, London, Manchester, South Africa and elsewhere. The population declined.

To have a Jewish service at all you must have 10 males. That is one of our main problems today, getting enough men to have a service.

Each member of the Jewish community can choose how strictly they adhere to the rituals associated with their faith.

The Belfast synagogue is Orthodox but how Orthodox you are depends on each individual. Although I would go on a regular basis to synagogue there are certain things that I don't observe, because I'm not very religious. We have to keep the Sabbath, not do any work on the Sabbath day, we're not to go on public transport or do cooking on the Sabbath, and we're definitely not supposed to eat anything apart from kosher food - in which animals are slaughtered in a certain way. Although I belong to an Orthodox community and I'm fairly observant, I am also quite liberal. There is strict observance in not eating shellfish and pig. They are prohibited.

My faith means a lot to me because of my family background. The fact that my grandparents came from Talitsa in Russia, my mother's parents came from Poland and they were all big Jewish families and because of the disturbances in Russia they left there for here. So there have been Coppels here since 1895.

Prince William's visit to Israel meant a lot to me and I hope the media coverage the visit received worldwide will allow relations between the UK and Israel to grow.

I was very pleased that a member of the royal family had visited Israel. I know the delicacies of it. The state of Israel has been in existence since 1948 and there has never been a member of the royal family officially visiting. So it was a big deal and it got a lot of coverage and the Israelis were delighted to have a young, charming future King coming to bless the state of Israel and to visit the site where the Holocaust is remembered and see a vibrant, friendly people in the Israelis.

To have a member of the royal family visit was very heart-warming. I hope that it helps to improve relations between Israel and the UK."

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