In this time of email, text messages, WhatsApp, etc. do we remember what telegrams used to be? I bet we do. So, we are familiar with the Jewish telegram: “Start worrying. Details to follow”.
We Jews indeed tend to worry; when we speak with the doctor we always want a second opinion, and if it happens that we look to the future with calm and optimism, we immediately think there must be something wrong.
Jokes apart, it is true that these are worrisome times for us Jews who happen to live in England. I am talking not only of the Brexit uncertainties and about the fact that we literally don’t know how and when this mess will end.
But also, how can we deny it, that one of the two major parties in this country is, or is in the process of becoming institutionally antisemitic. It is a source of concern not only for those Jews who are members of the Labour Party and do whatever they can do, to change the course of the events.
If God forbid, Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes will come into power, the British Jewish community as it currently is, will most likely be under attack for a number of reasons. If you don’t believe me, or if you think I am exaggerating, have a look at the social media activities of the supporters of the current leader of the Labour Party. They are not happy that so many young Jews spend their gap years in Israel, or even that they visit the Country. They question our rights to produce and eat kosher meat.
And don’t expect them to understand our need for security. Quite the opposite. Just before the elections, a registered member of the Labour Party, in our city, had been caught writing messages on an Internet forum organising, literally, an assault on “the synagogue in Hove”. I am afraid we qualify as such. True, the lady has since been expelled from the Party once her activity was exposed. But the problem is always the same. Why was she admitted to the Party; why were her messages so popular; why was the candidate she supported (another anti-Semite) allowed to run for the Party and, I am afraid, when will these two racists and anti-Semites be readmitted in the Party, as it is often the case.
There are reasons to be fearful of the future, even if you are not an anxious person, or indeed even if you are not Jewish. Several Christians, Muslims, and atheists have shared with me their anxieties. It is, I must say, reassuring to know that we have friends in other communities, including, the Muslims.
But I must also say that, despite everything, I feel a strange sense of calm and tranquillity. I myself did not know why, because I tend to be an anxious person by nature and by (Jewish) culture. I must admit, I sometimes wonder whether my children will move to Israel one day. But I do not see my own future out of this Country. Even when I receive, as it happens, nasty messages via email or otherwise, I am not scared. I myself did not know where such confidence came from, but I think I have understood why, last week during my trip to Rome.
I don’t know whether you have ever been to Rome. If you intend to go, I recommend you include in the tour a stroll in the Jewish neighbourhood, the Ghetto. A visit to the main Synagogue; a tour of the Museum, and of course a stop to the Jewish bakery (no sign needed, just follow the smell and have a slice of pizza — the Jewish pizza, which is of course sweet). While I was walking, with some friends around the square and in the small alleyways, overhearing a conversation in Jewish dialect and people talking of friends and family “in Eretz”, I could not think how the same alleyways looked like twenty or thirty years ago.
At that time Italy had a strong Communist Party. The biggest in Western Europe. It dissolved in 1989, but its officials and militants merely moved to other parties and brought with them the same antisemitic ideology that is the core belief of the current leadership of the Labour Party. Massimo D’Alema was the former director of the Communist newspaper. In 2006 he was Prime Minister. The photo of him hand in hand, literally, with the leader of Hezbollah is one of the most fearful pictures you can see. When questioned by the press, D’Alema had the cheek to explain that “Hezbollah is a perfectly legitimate Party”.
By the way, this is the same politician that, whenever a Jew entered his office for a meeting, used to check around the room whether some spying device had been placed around “by the Mossad”, and he thought he was being funny.
Not only Mr D’Alema but the whole tribe, I would say the whole former Communist Party, who came into power in the 90s, was a threat for us Jews. From the top to the very bottom, including of course academics and regular folks who had a habit to threaten legal consequences whenever someone, like me, ever dared to begin a discussion on antisemitism on the Left. I and other Jews have received a number of these threats. It has not been pleasant.
Even less pleasant was to notice that, whenever the situation in the Middle East became tense, the amount of antisemitic messages that our Synagogue received on weekly basis (four or five) spiked to ten or so, per day.
Then, over time, things changed. This generation of politicians, all -more or less- relics of the Cold War, and whose CV is so familiar, including holidays in East Germany and support for the IRA, retired, grew old, or were defeated by internal opponents. Now we have more reasonable, younger, and more intelligent politicians (some of them Jewish, I must say). Left-wing antisemitism is now, in Italy, a fringe phenomenon. Despite even the not very reassuring economic situation, Italian Jews do feel safer.
Hence, probably, the sense of calm and lack of anxiety by which I face my future as a British Jew. I am not afraid because I know we are stronger.
It may well be that, much as the Israelites in this week’s Torah portion, we are at the beginning of a journey through the wilderness, and we will have to face attacks from enemies from all sides, plus your average dose of internal quarrels and strives. It may be. But we know that the reason for such a journey, the very reason for being Jewish, and perhaps the ultimate reason for the hate against us, is our connection to the Land of Israel. In Israel a society based on the values of freedom and justice is being built, it exists and inspires the world. Despite being surrounded by enemies far worse than Massimo D’Alema or Jeremy Corbyn.
We may be facing difficult times in the future, but we have seen worse and we have survived. I was reminded of the strength of Jewish resilience when visiting Rome. I cannot ask you to do the same, because each of us have different memories, depending on the places we were born and lived. But I am telling you, as a Rabbi, today, the Shabbat before Yom Yerushalayim: “think of Israel”. Think of the marvellous, inspiring, energising resilience of Israeli Jews. A Jewish community, or if you like many Jewish communities, who not only survives but blossoms, despite everything.
They are Jews like us, we can certainly do the same.
Am Israel Chai! Yom Yerushalayim Sameach.
1 June 2019–27 Iyar 5779