Working in Swansea, at the Swansea Bay Racial Equality Council, I have built a new kind of life for myself. I work in a place where my Jewish roots are nurtured and encouraged. Kosher meals are prepared for me at conferences, requested by the organisation I work for. Even though, I have got used to the vegetarian version, I feel quite touched by this attention to detail. I have an enlightened Muslim boss and colleagues, and we share many similar stories and cultural references, we recognise our differences yet, we are similar.
Together, we work to eliminate race hate,and encourage those who encounter it to report it. We work on a multi-agency level and a member from every ethnic origin, sits round the table with the Chief of Swansea Police, to discuss every issue that comes up. They want to know everything, no matter how minor.
Our newsletter reaches every community, wishing them a Happy Chanukah, Diwali, Eid and multi-cultural conferences and community events, draw in the wonderful diversity that exists in this Welsh city. From asylum seekers, Jews, Refugees, Muslims, English, Irish - every ethnicity and diversity is celebrated, -not hidden.
I recently, had the honour of speaking to a Romany gypsy traveller family at one such event, and they welcomed me with open arms. A twelve year old girl stood up and spoke about their tradition and culture in front of an enthusiastic crowd and played a haunting, traditional tune on her violin, that took my breath away. Her family have invited me to take part in their traditions within their closed community, and we shared stories, some sad, of both our peoples being persecuted in the holocaust; and the insufferable persecution and outside perceptions that still exist. Rabbi Sacks' warning not to wear yarmulkas in the street in France, is necessary, but a great shame. To think our traditions can not be celebrated and visible in the twenty-first century weighs heavy on my heart.
Discrimination and persecution exist and we have laws against them, and for our protection in the UK. Under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, forced into being after the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence, it requires not only amendments to public sector organisations, to take responsibility to eliminate discrimination; but also to do something about it and have a plan. A Race Equality Scheme should explain how this will be achieved. Wales in particular, have a progressive legislative process, and are moving towards a Single Equality Policy for all, with the Welsh Assembly relying on community integration and engagement within the voluntary sector, to feedback and bring this into fruition.
I welcome the comments by Chief Rabbi Sacks, that we should not base our Jewish identity on memories of persecution. If we can learn from my gypsy friends, we need to celebrate our identity. Identify our culture and the stories of the East End or where ever our grandparents came from, before they disappear with that generation. Showing our rich heritage, rather than how we died - (as I have grown up with) - may be the key. We should never forget what happened, after all my maternal grandfather's family made up of almost three hundred, died in the holocaust, and we need to honour them, and make sure it never happens again.
Jonathan Sacks may have not grown up with a single incident of anti-semitism,yet, it's not indicative of it not existing - as he points out. It is inherent and ingrained. I grew up in North London, into a nice Jewish family. However, after leaving a private school, where I was persecuted, not because of my faith, but bullied nonetheless. I then attended a comprehensive grammar school in Borehamwood. I suffered persecution for a year, for being a 'Jew', they harrassed me where I lived 'too rich' 'big house', 'big car' and taunted anybody who spoke to me. In Swansea, this is now being addressed, in schools, racism, (and I count anti-semitism) in this bracket is being addressed, and in Wales as a whole, (they are the first in the UK to have dedicated counsellours in schools to assist young people). Our Project, funded by the National Lottery is to put some of these procedures in place. I believe to some degree, that being brought up with the belief that our people were and always have been persecuted, is one I have carried with me all my life. If the belief is ingrained sooner or later you will be persecuted in some form or another.
It is true we can not fight anti-semitism alone, but we can take some responsibility for the healing of our own wounds. We can start to eliminate the cultures that give rise to it, but more importantly recognise that it is not just a Jewish problem. Yes, we have the blood libel fallacy and other such despicable stories but, there are other ethnic minorities and peoples suffering too. We need to unite with these communities in order to eliminate racism in all its forms, for any enduring or lasting affect. After all co-operation and a joint force, will make us all stronger and empower us to fight anti-semitism, or race based hate.
I decided to channel my own persecution complex into the job I am doing now as a community officer, engaging with all communities to eliminate unlawful 'racial' discrimination, to promote equality of opportunity, and good relations between all peoples. We are small fish in a big pond, but it's a good start.
Hopefully, in the future we can see British law extend to become European Law. No other country in Europe is as advanced in laws against racial discrimination as the UK. States like France only cover the basics and are struggling to keep up with the European Convention on Human Rights. I used to hide my identity for fear of persecution, at school and several work places within the London area. I have been in Wales for eighteen months now, and the Welsh people and the organisation I work for have welcomed me, and my identity with open arms. I no longer have to hide - I can finally be myself. Here I have found my own personal allies, in the fight against all forms of racism. I have seen it first hand, how it is not just Jewish people that are persecuted, but all people who are different. Muslims, Africans, Carribeans, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Asian peoples, people of all ethnicities or cultures are affected and I have seen it occur in all forms.
Jonathan Sacks writes with intellect, clarity and wisdom, I am doing everything I can to help eliminate anti-semitism or discrimination in any form and have learned that we no longer have to be a persecuted minority alone.....