Hold on tightly to acts of solidarity from friends

We have been on an emotional rollercoaster and like many I am scared where this is leading

October 26, 2023 17:23

There are some childhood memories that stick with you even if you don’t understand at the time what they really mean.

In January 1991, I came home from school and my mum was distraught. I thought someone had died. They hadn’t — at least not yet. It was the overwhelming sense of fear about what might happen next as Iraqi Scud missiles rained down over Tel Aviv that had thrown her.

I was 11 and it marked my first real understanding that my Jewish identity was more than just my faith, more than just what I was learning at Cheder, more than going to shul. For the first time, I had an insight that while my mum was raising me to be a proud Brit, I was also a Jew and that meant I was also a member of the worldwide community. Its pain, its fears and its experiences were going to touch my life.

It was also going to provide me with joy and strength and determination. It was to become a core part of my identity.

Even with everything that has happened in the Middle East since, it’s really only been in the last fortnight that I have appreciated what my mum felt back then.

As the news began to break about the October 7 pogrom, I was sitting in my car outside a meeting, sobbing. I was terrified for my family in Israel, heartbroken at the lack of humanity and scared about what was going to happen next in the Middle East, around the world and on the streets of the UK.

I don’t need to tell anyone reading this about the emotional rollercoaster we’ve been on. The lack of sleep, the constant worry about what’s happening to our friends and family, the feeling of dread in the pits of our stomachs, the fear to turn on the news and the heartbreak and anger when we do.

The images from Israel and from Gaza are devastating. The death, the despair and the anger. The testimony from survivors of the pogrom reminds every Jew of a desperate chapter of our persecuted history.

The pictures of the hostages — each one too familiar — put a human face to the terror. It would be so much easier, at this moment, to retreat from the world, to hide with my family and ignore the plight of others who feel just as impotent and scared as I do.

But that will achieve nothing. In fact, it will make things even worse for every one of us touched by events 3,000 miles distant.

Antisemitism will not disappear because we wish it away, misinformation will not be challenged by turning off the news and our communities will not be safe if we pretend that there isn’t hate on our streets.

And we don’t have to. In the midst of the misery, many of us will have experienced a moment of comfort or reassurance and unexpected friendship (I know that we have also experienced the exact opposite, the disappointment of learning that some friends are not allies, but in the middle of the horror I need to focus on the good).

I am beyond grateful for the support and love I have received from the senior members of the Labour Party who have reached out daily to make sure I am coping and that my family are safe. This would not have happened four years ago. Keir Starmer has been the definition of a mensch.

And I will never forget the love and support of my nearest and dearest, but in light of the rising antisemitism and Islamophobia on our streets, it is my Muslim friends for whose love I am truly grateful.

Last Thursday I saw a work colleague who is Iraqi. There were more than 100 people in the room but as soon as we saw each other we embraced and held each other tightly as we shared each other’s deep sorrow and spoke of our pain.

On Sunday, as the Jewish Labour Movement held its inaugural Northern Conference, we were joined by my friend from the House of Lords, Lord Wajid Khan, who chose to come and join us as we grieved together about events that are devastating for both our communities.
He chose to spend his time with us as we tried to make sense of the horror.

And at the beginning of the week my ten-year- old goddaughter, whose father is Muslim, left me a message to say I am the best auntie ever and that she is by my side (OK, that is just cute).

It is these acts of love and solidarity between communities that I am determined to hold on to. Because there is too much hate, too much anger and I am scared about where this could lead. We so desperately need to find a way to peace. Which is why I wish shalom and salaam to all of you.

Ruth Anderson is a Labour peer

October 26, 2023 17:23

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