Ros Altmann

Baroness Altmann: Chanukah doughnuts in Whitehall

Chanukah is a festival of light when we celebrate the re-taking of the Temple and the restoration of religious freedom by the Maccabees after years of fighting against Syrian led forces. That was about 1600 years ago, but it has deep resonance in todays world, too.


File photo dated 17/4/2015 of Former pensions minister Ros Altmann who has called for a national inquiry into the impact of ultra-low interest rates. Baroness Altmann argued that in some ways, monetary policy is "acting like a tax increase", reducing people's spending power.

December 23, 2016 14:48

Many of us feel frightened of being Jewish in Britain today, amid seemingly endless reports of antisemitism. However, I believe such fears are overblown.

We are fortunate to live in a Christian country which strongly defends our religious principles and practice. This cannot be said of so many other countries in today’s world. Acceptance of people of all religious beliefs, or none, is a fundamental element of our political and legal systems.

We really do have a Government and civil service who are exceptionally accepting of our Jewish way of life.

I have seen this first-hand.

Being an observant Jew in Britain today poses no barrier to success. As the UK’s first Orthodox Jewish Minister of State I never experienced any antisemitism whatsoever from politicians or officials.

Indeed, the accommodation of our religious observance was beyond reproach. Not for one moment was there ever any negativity about me being ‘frum’. Indeed, they seemed to really enjoy the special traditional delicacies I brought in for each festival.

One topical example: I arrived in my department, the DWP, one Monday morning around a year ago. All the Christmas decorations had been put up over the weekend. Outside each minister’s office was a large, beautifully decorated, Christmas tree. Then, as I approached my own office, I was nearly moved to tears when I saw a giant menorah.

The officials found out it was first day Chanukah and put one candle in the first branch and one in the Shamash holder. I was overwhelmed at such thoughtfulness.

We all enjoyed the douhgnuts I’d brought in and at 5pm the following few nights, we lit the Chanukah lights and sang songs in Hebrew and English.

This was not a one-off. On numerous occasions my private office went to great lengths to anticipate and accommodate my Judaism.

During my first week, one of my team had gone specially to Golders Green to get some kosher pastries for our weekly team meeting.

My diary secretary, without being asked, printed off all the Jewish festival dates and winter shabbat times. My Red Box was specially delivered on Saturdays after 1pm, timed after I returned from shul, and the delivery driver knew I could not sign for it.

Ministerial weekend duties were shared so that I would do Sundays for other ministers while they would cover for me on Saturdays. All of this was readily arranged without fuss.

My political colleagues also showed amazing accommodation of my religious principles, with fellow Tory Ministers and MPs totally supportive of my Judaism.

As we celebrate Chanukah during the Christmas break, we have so much to be thankful for.

We don’t need the Maccabees to fight for our religious freedom. We already have it.

Baroness Altmann, CBE was minister 
of state at the DWP 2015-16.

December 23, 2016 14:48

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