The importance of identity
By Leon A Smith
March 23, 2012
Compulsive Obsessive Disorder can be a nasty business. A sufferer has an uncontrollable urge based on thought processes to obsess about certain actions – sometimes totally irrationally or illogically. One particular manifestation of this disorder is an uncontrollable urge on my part to keep making references to Bristol Rovers Football Club (for those of you vaguely interested in football, we are currently languishing in the bottom third of the Second Division). I wanted to make this reference following a recent visit to a very large public Jewish event where somebody walked by me wearing a shirt with Bristol Rovers written on it. I felt compelled to approach him, drawn like a magnet, to ask why on earth was he wearing this shirt! I then said to him (to my own astonishment) “I didn’t realise there was another Jewish Bristol Rovers supporter”. To which he looked confused and perplexed! We subsequently had a conversation as if we were old friends. The moral of this story relates to identity.
I have a very strong sense of Jewish identity. Part of the pleasure of that identity is feeling some kind of belonging to a wider group of people – the same applies to my allegiance to a football club. There is a great sense of belonging particularly in relation to my own particular football club where supporters are a small elite group. All of this narrative goes I hope to demonstrate a point regarding the importance of identity with a group. I can therefore see why finding another Jewish Bristol Rovers supporter was a very satisfying moment for me, in view of my allegiances!
In writing this blog I do like to try and be as original as I can but I do have a compelling need to keep coming back (as you may have noticed) to the same theme. Identity – Bristol Rovers – and food. (There is no connection with the last two items).
All of the above is a very convoluted way of coming to my point. It is one I have often made before about the importance of identity. Nightingale cares for some 200 older people. They come from numerous different backgrounds – socio-economically, geographically, religiously, politically. They are in that sense a socially disparate group of people. One common denominator however is Jewishness. Not because they have the same degree of religious affinity or even cultural identity – the common fact is that they were all born Jewish.
Nightingale does not get involved in the “who is a Jew ?”. We are not a school and we do not see that as our role. Anybody presenting themselves to Nightingale as being Jewish and has a sense of Jewish identity is very welcome at Nightingale.
I am occasionally asked by other people in the care sector why it is necessary to have an intrinsically Jewish organisation whose services are only available to members of the Jewish faith. The answer to that question may vary according to exactly who is asking it! The obvious answer is that there needs to be a facility where people have access to a synagogue, to a rabbi, Kosher food and to an ambience where Jewish festivals can be celebrated appropriately. Another side to this is the fact that so many people are coming to us for cultural and not for religious reasons. They want to be with other Jewish people and they are coming to a place where they feel their psyche might be understood.
The irony of this is the fact that whilst all of our 200 residents are Jewish very few of our staff are. Yet they are all part of the Nightingale “family” and are perceived as being such both by residents and by staff. In essence therefore the reason that many people choose to come to our Home is because of comfort, reassurance, security, stability, and understanding. All of this is provided at Nightingale – a charity which has been providing this service for 170 years. During that time we would have looked after many hundreds of thousands of older people going back to centres of immigration in the East End in the mid-1800’s people from different backgrounds, different countries. Generations come and go but Nightingale has always been here. I believe that it will continue to exist for at least another 170 years providing care and compassion to many future generations of older Jewish people.
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