Just remember your mates to stay immune from hate

By Michael Freedland, August 5, 2010
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One of the problems for those of us on the wrong side of middle-age is that we show too much respect for certain people in our past, and too little for others. You could say it’s the natural order of things. But every now and again when my dearest and most loyal pals and I get together, I start asking questions.

What happened to Roy Potter, who at school was a bosom buddy until I caught him saying rude things about me in the bike shed (considering the other things that happened in the bike shed, that was a minor offence)?

Or John Smith, who shared with me the joy of being caned by our headmistress on two successive days? Did he really say something unpleasant about Jews? I am not at all sure and we did remain friends.

Then there was David McClaren, a talented musician who lived opposite us and joined our Social Zionist group. He called himself a Christian Zionist.

Now, that is where the point of this arises. None of these boys — whom I didn’t think I could ever do without — was Jewish.

I am concerned about that, now that my hair isn’t quite the colour it was when we knew each other. I, like too many of my generation growing older in a Jewish environment forget the time when our friends were of a different background. Nor do we give credit for what was a primitive but generally successful exercise in interfaith relations. We may not have realised it at the time, but by moving into a Jewish milieu we have jettisoned an important part of our lives.

The recent anti-Israel — and I would say antisemitic — resolution by the Methodist Church highlights that for me. How many of those Methodists knew Jewish people when they were growing up? Do the older ones, my opposite numbers, have any Jewish friends now (not of the “some of my best friends are…” variety), or choose to remember the days when they did?

My generation remembers air-raid shelters and rationing. What we forget at our peril — and the Methodist resolution is a product of that — is that we never rationed our non-Jewish friends.

Later in life, one of my best journalistic contacts was a man called Bill Gowland. He was the Methodist minister in Luton in charge of industrial relations between his church and the workforce in the town. “My church is for people who sweat and swear,” he used to say.

We talked about our two religions constantly. He tried to set up a council of Christians and Jews locally (the organisation’s head office thought that relations were too good to need such a thing — a terrible mistake) and dearly wanted to go to Israel, which he never did.

I once interviewed the late Lord Soper on my radio show, You Don’t Have To Be Jewish. He was the most high-profile Methodist in Britain thanks to his long life of speaking from a soap box in Tower Hill. I asked him why he opposed the North-West London eruv. “Because it thrusts your faith down the throats of others,” he said — among other things.

This from a man who did his own preaching in the open air. It was my first experience of Methodist antisemitism.

The message, then, is that not enough people of my generation cherish memories that wouldn’t allow us to tar every gentile with the same brush.

    Last updated: 10:11am, July 22 2011

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