Most of the time I’m pretty happy about living in Manchester. The warmth of the Jewish community is palpable, whilst bracing walks by the coast or restorative trips to the Lancashire countryside are only a short journey away. Meanwhile Manchester town centre is big enough to offer lots of retail options, yet small enough to ensure you always bump into someone you know when idling in the M&S food aisle.
What’s more, great Rabbonim have repeatedly termed Manchester “Ir Hakodesh” — phonetic Hebrew for the holy city, principally because there are so many shuls and minyanim it would take a lifetime to fall out with them all.
Yet in spite of such manifest benefits, there’s one significant drawback. Manchester and smaller communities miss out when it comes to accessing top class speakers to make pro bono appearances in support of Jewish causes.
Most big name draws live within the M25, making it a struggle to get potential event headliners to leave London for the fee-free charity circuit. As such, non-Londoncentric communities can feel increasingly isolated and in greater need of support, direction and empowerment during these dark and difficult times.
Last month’s March Against Antisemitism — coaches were available from Manchester and the provinces — was a wonderful opportunity to feel the strength and connection of community interdependence. But it was a singular event. Up here, away from London, a sense of worry and isolation continues to prevail in even the proudest and determined heart.
About a month ago, as many individuals shared such fears, it became clear there was a yawning lack of resources within northern communities to address such feelings of helplessness. So a committee came together to establish the Northern Advocacy Group, NAG for Israel, as a platform to host experts who could bolster our communities and offer concrete direction to advocate, speak up and fight back.
The inaugural event was a blazing success. Complain! Explain!” was a panel event headlined by two brilliant out-of-towners: the JC’s formidable editor Jake Wallis Simons and television presenter Rachel Riley, community warriors who gave their time for free and who strive indefatigably to fight antisemitism. As such they were perfectly placed, alongside locals - community leader Joshua Rowe, who generously sponsored the evening, and former Middle East Minister Ivan Lewis - to empower the 500-strong audience with concrete tips for outplaying the habitual antisemite.
The thirst for more live events was evident in the feedback. Yet it’s clear geographical distance puts Manchester and the provinces at a distinct disadvantage. After all, it’s not a stroll round the corner to JW3. Coming up North requires time, effort and the grind of the commute. As such, the pond in which northern committees can fish for stellar speakers is regrettably small.
To every influencer, sports personality, actor or pop star who feels a kinship with the Jewish community, the clarion call is simple. Please do something really marvellous to support us in such difficult times by sucking up the mileage and making the journey north.
Be a magnet for such communities to come together, thrash out plans to stand up to our detractors and answer the distorted bias that catalyses antisemitism.
The rewards are massive. Aside from doing a gold standard mitzvah, you’ll be welcomed like a rockstar and smothered in clouds of communal love.
In a country of over 67 million, we Jews count for less than 0.5 per cent of the population. This is demographic isolation on a significant scale. And while we can’t do much to push the birthrate, what we can do is find strength from those who can consolidate our disparate cries.
So if you receive an email from NAG or other causes in the North, please say yes.
The journey may take a few hours. But in terms of what you’ll achieve, the mileage is incalculable.