After the acrimony of of the election, Limmud was particularly healing

The last thing I wanted was to be around several thousand Jews but somehow it was incredibly refreshing, writes Nina Morris Evans

January 08, 2020 12:31

The last few months of 2019 were frustrating for Jews in the UK. However people voted or felt about the outcome the run up to the election was awkward at best. I know I was not alone in feeling confused and very much in the political wilderness.

It seemed to me that, as our own community became one of the main election issues, we lost the ability to talk or even think with any subtlety.

Two camps emerged: there was the "avoid Corbyn at any cost" camp which, in its most extreme manifestation, portrayed an election of Corbyn as leader as some kind of repeat of Nazi Germany.

In its more moderate version there was a valid argument here that I could somewhat relate to: whatever Corbyn’s personal ideas around Jews might be, if a Labour government was elected after all the headlines about antisemitism, it would be an opportunity for previously covert antisemites to feel like they’d been given the go-ahead to become more outspoken. 

At the other end of the scale, my Facebook feed was smattered with Corbynite Jews who were so keen for a socialist government, and frustrated by the ubiquity of anti-Corbyn headlines in the Jewish press, that they had taken to claiming that antisemitism in the Labour Party WAS a hoax after all.

In the more moderate version of this camp there was once again an argument that I could relate to. Perhaps I agree that some whiffs of antisemitic rhetoric are a ‘price worth paying’ for a Labour government that stopped the under-funding of state schools, found permanent homes for those now living on the streets and reduced the number of people faced with the choice between heating and eating.

This subsection was also likely to give the argument of the ‘the Labour Party are less antisemitic than the Tory party are Islamophobic’. 

This polarisation became pretty nasty in the run up to the election, and I found it even nastier on the Friday morning afterwards, with people either celebrating or cursing a result which should not have been celebrated, and needed no fingers pointing.

It made me feel uncomfortable to be Jewish. I was constantly asked what I thought about the Labour Party, whether I thought it was anti-semitic and what should be done about it. I delivered answers with varying levels of conviction, hazily confused about what I really did think. 

And then I came to Limmud.

After the whole balagan, the last thing I wanted was to be around several thousand Jews, pretty much stuck with them in a hotel for five days. I’ve been coming to Limmud since I was a baby, so I really knew what I was letting myself in for.

In the run-up I baulked at the thought of the inevitable comments disguised as questions, the strength of opinion on everything from British and Israeli politics to where to buy the best challot or exactly how to sing Mah oz tzur.

And I wasn’t wrong - that’s just how it was.

But somehow, it’s been incredibly healing and refreshing. I spent the week with thousands of Jews, all with opinions and different life experiences, all there to learn and talk and discover. Instead of feeling frustrated by being faced with the authors of articles or tweets that bothered me, it’s been eye-opening to recognise people’s narratives, and to really listen.

People at Limmud care about what they’re talking about, and it creates an incredibly special environment and atmosphere to be in.

Creating a truly pluralist space, both politically and religiously has its difficulties, but this year it’s given me a renewed spirit to throw myself into what I believe in.

It was a pleasant surprise to realise that we can still find respectful ways to listen to each other in the Jewish community, and I hope we can transfer those attitudes towards each other, and methods of communication into our lives more broadly.

Nina Morris Evans studies PPE at Oxford and is a former president of the university's Jewish society. She has previously lived in Israel.

January 08, 2020 12:31

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