From time to time I'm accused of ignoring 'good news.' 'You're preoccupied with dirty linen,' a caller recently bawled at me down the telephone line. 'There's so much that's good about British Jewry; but all you're interested in are its shortcomings.' Well, it so happens that over the past fortnight a number of good news stories have come my way. I propose now to share three of them with you.
The first concerns the part played by British Jews in the rioting, looting and arson to which English cities were subjected at the beginning of the month.
The good news? As perpetrators, Jews played virtually no part at all. No doubt if one searched hard enough one might come across one or two of the thousands of arsonists, rioters and looters who turn out to be halachically Jewish. The fact is - as one correspondent (Mr Stephen Hugh-Jones) was generous enough to point out in The Times on 13 August - that the Jewish contribution to the mayhem was practically non-existent.
For once I have to agree with the comments of chief rabbi Lord Sacks (writing also in The Times, 12 August) that what the country needs is a 'remoralisation,' to counter especially the current national obsession with rights rather than with obligations. Responsible parenting is key to this urgent moral regeneration and it so happens that the remarks I myself was going to make on this subject were largely made for me by Michael Freedland in last week's JC. But I'm delighted that Michael stole my thunder.
In the days following the riots what I found most sickening - apart from the video footage of the thugs and miscreants as they went about their work – were the attempts by some within the chattering classes to portray unadulterated criminality as some species of quasi-legitimate social protest, grounded - we were told - in poverty and unemployment.
I reminded one journalist that my maternal grandfather was unemployed for four years during the grim 1930s; but it would never have occurred to him to loot, or to torch the homes of those amongst whom he lived. This was because his moral compass had been secured upon the rock of a resolute religious faith, in which he took unshakeable pride, handed to him by his parents and by him to my mother, and so to me.
On the tombstone of my grandfather's own father (an immigrant who entered this country virtually penniless and who died, in 1910, not quite penniless) are listed the Jewish friendly societies to which he belonged. This serves as a reminder to me that one central component of his religious faith was the conviction that Jews had a duty to help each other, especially in times of adversity. But we also need to re-examine what the late Jewish historian Raphael Samuel described as 'the desacralization of marriage' that has been one of the most destructive features of British society post-1945.
And so we come to my second piece of good news, albeit encased within a tragedy.
On 15 August I received the report that my brother-in-law, a medical practitioner living in Manchester, had suddenly died. My wife Marion, sister to the deceased, was then travelling to our north-of-England home, at Seaham Harbour, just south of Sunderland. When I was at last able to contact her we realised that she might well have to observe the initial shiva period alone in our cottage by the sea. So I want to pay tribute to Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag (of Manchester), who arranged for members of the Gateshead community to visit my wife and escort her to be with her grieving, widowed sister-in-law.
There can surely be no more poignant example of communal solidarity and selfless concern for others, which points us to an essential benchmark against which any national remoralisation must be calibrated.
And the third piece of good news?
You may recall that in 2008 I drew attention to 'Ofra' (not her real name), a young lady of Israeli birth who had been refused a place at Westminster University because an admissions tutor declined to accept her grade A in A-Level Hebrew, arguing that this stellar performance was unacceptable for entry purposes since Hebrew was Ofra's mother-tongue.
I have to tell you now that following the intervention of the Quality Assurance Agency the university did eventually relent, and that last month Ofra obtained a First Class Honours degree.
I'm sure you will join me in applauding her determination, and wishing her and her parents a hearty mazeltov!