And you too are right (and wrong, also)
There’s an old story from the times when Rabbis were undisputed leaders and judges of their shtetl. There were two individuals who had a major dispute. The first party carefully outlined his side of the argument. The Rabbi listened intently and finally said, “My friend, you are right.” The man went away satisfied.
Then the other party arrived and told the Rabbi his side of the issue. The Rabbi again listened carefully, and replied: “You are right.”
Later, the Rabbi’s wife, who had overheard the Rabbi’s conversations with both men, said to him: “You told both the first party and the second party that they were right. How can this be?” To which the Rabbi replied, “And you are right too!”
Now fast forward to the contemporary world. We don’t live in shtetl anymore; rather we interact on social media. So you have this Rabbi, (which is me), be notified on Facebook about a recent survey on anti-Semitism in the UK. The survey reported that almost half of Jews fear they have no future in Britain, while a quarter has thought about leaving the country.
One can think about the recent horrendous carnage in France, and to that scary question which certainly many of us have asked ourselves: Can it happen here? Or think about some of the horrendous slogans shouted in front of Sodastream shop. Or think of the anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of Holland Road shul, which we still don’t know who was responsible for it.
And the conclusion is: You are right, my friend. I have reason to be sceptical regarding the future of British Jewry. And on more than one occasion I have been thinking about moving to Israel.
Then, always on Facebook, well-respected scholars and statisticians point out the weaknesses and flaws of that research. Jewish leaders have recalled that we have good relations with other faiths. I personally have a very good relationship with several Christian ministers, and we are all aware of the great support that Sussex Friends of Israel receive from our Christian friends. And several pointed out that in the UK Jewish life has never been so vibrant. Think of Limmud, for example. We are an inspiration for all the Diaspora. No, we Jews are not hiding in the catacombs, in the UK. Being Jewish nowadays in the UK means being as safe as never before in the same country. So say all these leaders and Rabbis.
And this Rabbi says: You are right, too.
Wait a minute. How can this be possible? Either we British Jews are safe and at home, in the UK, or we are all unsafe and constantly terrified, and our luggage is packed and we are going to move away from this country. They cannot both be right, you may say.
And I say: you are right too.
You see, this whole balagan of a debate comes after the terrible carnage in France, as we all know, and, also, after the greatest demonstration in French history, when the leaders of almost all the nations of the world, marched in Paris against Islamic terrorism. Among them, among all the leaders of the world, was also Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel.
After the rally, Netanyahu went together with Francois Hollande, Prime Minister of France, to the Great Synagogue in Paris, to pay honour to the Jewish victims of the massacre. The crowd cheered when Netanyahu entered the shul. Not because they support Mr Netanyahu’s politics, or the Israeli stance on the settlements in the West Bank, or anything you may read in the media.
The President of the State of Israel was cheered for a very basic reason; because history has proven how much a Jewish State is needed, and has inscribed in our souls that the States where we Jews live may, or may not protect our lives and our belongings.
Netanyahu by himself made this lesson extremely clear while addressing the crowd, in the presence of Francois Hollande, who by the way was wearing a kippah, a religious symbol, despite all the fuss the French do, when they talk about the laicite’, the duty of the state to promote secularism.
The President of the State of Israel told the French Jews that Israel is there to help them, to support them, to provide them, if needed, with a roof over their heads. All of this happened in the Great Synagogue of Paris, a monument to the Emancipation, inaugurated in 1875, the embodiment of the noble dream according to which French Enlightenment, and secularisation, the laicite’, had defeated anti-Semitism,
and Jews were now not members of the Jewish people, but first and foremost French citizens of the Jewish faith, no different from Catholics and Protestants. Discrimination was over: that was the dream.
History proved such a dream being wrong. In that same synagogue, in 1890. capt. Alfred Dreyfuss married Lucie Hadamard. In that synagogue, under the eyes of the French President, Netanyahu stated once again that the Jews are a people, and as a people, they have the right to their own State.
This obviously matters with the survey about anti-Semitism, and the incandescent debate that is happening under our very eyes. Those who call attention on the anxiety and the discomfort, that we Jews experience in Britain nowadays, clearly are persuaded that we should be thankful that Israel exists, and in extreme situations can become our refuge. Such a high opinion of Israel is probably not shared by those Jewish leaders who are proud of the achievements that our community has reached in England. They want us to think that England is our home and probably Israel is just another country in the Middle East, where the majority of the population just happens to be Jewish (and whose leadership does not give us many reasons to be proud of).
As I say, both are right, which means both are wrong as well.
Only a fool can deny the safety we enjoy in the UK. We all know Brighton is not Paris. Even if Islamism is not foreign to Sussex. Let us not forget that some local youth is currently in Syria. But the police reassure us constantly. We are not at risk.
But only a very insensitive, selfish, shortsighted leadership can ignore how we feel.
Our lives are safe, and anti-Semitism is probably at its lowest in English history, meaning that very few people declare openly that they are anti-Semitic; but still, our hearts are turned to Jerusalem, still, we benefit, at least psychologically, by the existence of the Jewish State, still we consider Israel our home, still we are aware that every attack on Israel is an attack on the Jewish people, on ourselves.
I personally don’t think I have to choose between feeling safe in Brighton and feeling at home in Jerusalem. Neither, I am sure, the majority of British Jews. Go and tell those who point out inaccuracies in sociological researches — and they are right. And to those who stand every day against anti-Semitism; who are right too.
[17 January 2015]