Now let's have a Jewish coalition

Shouldn’t our communal leaders be able to emulate the politicians and overcome differences?


Belatedly, I have caught election fever. Before the vote and its consequences, I was completely immune, resisting the blandishments of smug and evasive politicians and wishing plagues on all their houses. The televised debates that so excited the nation only confirmed my conviction that modern life is a form of reality TV and that we are all extras in a latter-day Truman Show. (The word "reality" is of course a misnomer. We have lost touch with true reality when our national broadcaster offers up a cookery contest for tiny tots, complete with infant X-factor wannabes mouthing to camera that, "winning Junior MasterChef would mean everything to me".)

So it was that, on May 6, standing in the polling booth, pencil hovering hesitantly in my fingers, my mind went blank. Desperate, I tried thinking Jewishly. It didn't help. Labour? Timid and duplicitous on Israel. Tories? In bed with EU fascist-tinged "nutters". LibDems? Jenny Tonge!

Searching for calm and inspiration, I cast my mind back to the 19th century, a pre-TV era when Britain's Jews were not artificially located within a delicately embroidered, multicultural tapestry.

In those days, Moses Angel, headmaster of the JFS, and one of the country's most enlightened educators, turned immigrant children of Yiddish-speaking parents into well-read, responsible British - or at least English - men and women. This colossal feat was all the more remarkable for being achieved without any significant loss of religious or cultural identity among Angel's pupils. And there were thousands of them: by 1900, the JFS, then in the East End of London, was Europe's biggest school with just under 4,000 pupils.

Today, Angel's legacy of blending the spiritual and the secular, the traditional and the modern, extends well beyond the forbidding gates of his old school's present incarnation in North-West London's hinterland. Well beyond all Jewish schools, in fact. Many are the beneficiaries of this Angelic influence, including the Cambridge-educated philosopher and gifted English communicator, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. And the Chief Rabbi is one of the people in whose hands lies the cure for my particular strain of election fever - as I shall explain.

For, after all the hype and the hand-wringing, the gaffes and the grinning, the electorate has delivered a potentially society-changing result. The prospect of a hung parliament has enabled mainstream parties to silence their nutters and extremists. The BNP has been routed, plotters foiled and George Galloway gutted. Not only do we have Cons and LibDems collaborating "in the national interest" to deal with war and deficit, but also a Labour party ready to refresh itself. And they all sound like they mean it.

So what's in it for the Jews (apart from the spectacle of two grown-up Miliband brothers still fighting over who gets the biggest party gift)? Well, those TV debates seem to have worked for the nation, so why not for the Jewish community? Insult-hurling MPs have become reconciled for the greater good of all British citizens, so why not the warring factions of British Jewry? If Cameron can invoke Disraeli, Sacks can surely look to Moses Angel.

Let's hold a public debate between a Jewish holy trinity of Orthodox, Reform and Progressive leaders. We even have our own minority Liberal grouping, whose head, Rabbi Danny Rich, could play Nick Clegg to Lord Sacks's Gordon Brown and Reform Rabbi Tony Bayfield's David Cameron. Give them a platform at Limmud or Jewish Book Week - it might get the TV people interested. It could even be expanded to take in the Masorti and the Fed, maybe at Alexandra Palace. And the Charedim… oh, all right, these events need ground rules and one would presumably be acknowledgement that we are in the 21st century.

With the example of the politicians before them, our communal and religious luminaries should be able to sweep aside their backwoodsmen, whose "no shared platform" mantra sounds so hollow in the wake of Cleggmania and the involvement in government of the likes of left-wing thinker Will Hutton and Labour MP Frank Field.

Issues? We got plenty. Identity and conversion. Antisemitism. Security. Charity funding. Residential care. Agunot. Israel. Education. Spending … these last two alone, given the thousands of pounds spent trying to disobey the law on faith-school admission policy, would make for a lively and lengthy exchange of views.

Could it happen? Well, during the election campaign, David Cameron was asked to name his favourite joke. His answer was: "Nick Clegg". Mine is: "Jewish coalition".

    Last updated: 2:24pm, August 13 2010

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