To The Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
On a Sabbath day in March 1959, John XXIII stopped the papal procession to bless the Jews at the exit of the Great Synagogue in Rome. That simple gesture was the beginning of a new era in the history of interfaith relations. That episode came to mind when reading your tweet of 5th March 2022. We truly treasure such heartfelt support.
Physical protection of this kind is a sad need for Jews in every country, with the exception of Israel. Every Jewish activity, religious, social, or educational, requires the help of professionals and volunteers who, together with the police, take care of our safety. This even includes religious schools,Your Grace.
Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Jews have found shelter in this country since the XVIII century, today we need to invest resources to protect our children. The Brighton & Hove Reform Synagogue that you referred to, which you were saddened to see being guarded by a security team, has been threatened by Far-Left extremists twice in 2019.
This situation is not peculiar to the United Kingdom. It is a feature of contemporary Jewish life.
Terrorists have assaulted kosher shops in Paris, Jewish museums in Belgium, and synagogues in the USA. And in Rome, on that very spot where the Pope had blessed the Jews in 1959, Jews now need the protection of armed guards.
Israel is the only country in the world where this does not happen. Jewish life blossoms in Israel. Despite internal tensions, sometimes voiced beyond its borders, Israel is an island of freedom, where Jews’ religious rights do not need to be negotiated. Every Jew has a different relationship with Israel, and we sometimes disagree among ourselves about Israel. Very often — too often! — we find it difficult to communicate why the existence of a Jewish State is so important.
Because of this, criticism of the State of Israel hurts the feeling of all Jews. Such criticism is rarely aimed at specific policies. It increasingly legitimises those who question Israel’s right to exist, right to defend Jewish religious life and to give shelter to Jewish refugees from all over the world.
Christian communities live as minorities throughout the Middle East. Like every minority, they have legitimate rights and possibly, complaints. However, worldwide, including in England, antisemites and opponents of Jewish self-determination are eager to exploit these complaints.
The Christian communities in Israel do not need armed protection by the police. The only exception to this is when a large crowd is expected, such as for the (Orthodox) Holy Fire in Jerusalem. The Israeli law protects the religious rights of the Christian communities.
Your Grace, we are men of faith. We know that our words have effects beyond our control. We are familiar with the noblest expression of the human soul — and the solidarity expressed by your tweet really humbles me. However, we also know how our words can be misconstrued. And this is exactly what has happened — I am so sorry I have to point it out — in response to your observations about the “threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land”, which were publicised in December 2021.
So to put it clearly: the existence of a Jewish State does not threaten the Christians. More than 180,000 Israeli citizens are Christian; the community has grown in number and their quality of life has improved. Indeed, in a recent survey, 84 per cent of Israeli Christians said they were ‘satisfied with their life’ (including the 24 per cent who were ‘very satisfied’).
Apart from tensions that occasionally happen, these are solid, indisputable facts. Equally undeniable is the sense of security that Israel’s existence provides to Jewish communities worldwide, including the British Jewish community.
We appreciate the support of our volunteers who are forced to stand outside guarding our synagogues rather than joining their families for the religious services within. Our life would be far more difficult without their hard work. However, there would be no Jewish life without Israel. This fact is acknowledged and proclaimed by many in the Christian community. How beautiful it would be to see you and your community join with these sentiments.
Sussex Jewish News, April 2022