The JC

Letters to the editor, 6 April 2024

David Baddiel, Rabbi Pinchus Shebson and Purim


Police officers stand guard as demonstrators waving Israeli flags hold a counter protest opposite pro-Palestinian activists marching in central London on March 30, 2024. (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP)

April 04, 2024 13:56

I must disagree with David Baddiel (Sorry, Charlotte Church. I’m a fan. But thing is, I’m also Jewish, 29 March). He says that he is “not very fussed” about the chant From the River to the Sea.

I think he is underestimating the power that chants and songs can have in bringing people together and furthering their cause. God Save the King started as a club song. Rule Britannia was composed in the eighteenth century by Arne for a masque but soon became, in effect, a second national anthem and is sung to this day. As is Elgar's march when, albeit against his wishes, the words of Land of Hope and Glory were set to it.

The Internationale was sung right round the world, uniting those who think communism should rule the world. A horrific example is the Horst Wessel, a march written for the funeral of one of Hitler's followers after a clash, that became the Nazi anthem.

From the River to the Sea may only be a chant but the meaning of a chant changes with its context. Think of some of the chants at football matches not long ago. Baddiel tells us that more words have been added and, set to music, it has been performed by Charlotte Church with a choir to give it extra power - as a rallying anthem. How long before this version becomes to the Jews of today what the Horst Wessel was to Jews in the thirties? I would not treat the ‘From the River to the Sea chant so lightly. Baddiel may not be fussed by it, but I certainly am.

Alan Schneider

London W13

The far more proactive and reactive position taken by many of our Jewish organisations in aggressively and publicly confronting the colossal increase of antisemitism is of course to be welcomed.

This includes the relentless investigative journalism of the Jewish Chronicle - which has become a vanguard in the on-going battle and exposure of antisemitism.

That all said, I do see a dangerous trend.

We as readers, as individuals and a wider community need to do much more ourselves. We need to collectively ensure that with all the hard work being done by so many others there is a robust follow-through to ensure that justifiable outcry leads to justifiable and definitive consequences for antisemitic actions, views and behaviour.

That is why I agree with the Jewish Leadership Council and others that a centralised effort of resources, focus and action is so critically needed. Too often we see meaningless words such as “we reject antisemitism and all forms of hate speech” and then nothing happens.

We all have a critical part to play in ensuring our individual and communal Jewish wellbeing. We cannot abdicate our responsibility to the efforts of others.

Derek Saker

Edgware, London

Last weekend, a Metropolitan police officer refused to say whether a swastika being carried on an anti-Israel protest was automatically antisemitic or a disruption of public order. He said that the sign needed to be seen “in context”.

This response was truly jaw-dropping and has rightly drawn condemnation from across the community. The swastika is indelibly associated with the horrors of totalitarianism and the most pernicious programme of racial extermination and persecution in history. It summons up visceral horrors and reminds Jews, and other minorities, that the toxic prejudice that led to the annihilation of millions is alive and well in the hearts of many.

That such a potent symbol of hatred in a public demonstration against Israel might not be considered antisemitic beggars belief and raises real questions about attitudes within the Metropolitan Police. Sir Mark Rowley must issue an urgent clarification of this matter.

Dr Jeremy Havardi

Director, B’nai B’rith UK Bureau of International Affairs

I want to tell you about an amazing experience I had just before Purim. I was invited to Bridgewater Primary school in Berkhamsted to take part in a WOW Multifaith day where volunteers from various faiths ran workshops with different years to teach the children about their religion.

I worked with two Reception and two Year 2 classes to talk about Judaism.

I first introduced them to Shabbat by explaining that each religion had its own day of rest - for example the Jewish people had Saturday when they went to the synagogue, Christians had Sunday when they went to church and Muslims went to their Mosque on Friday which highlighted how similar the religions were.

I then taught them my Shabbat song “Two Candles Burn” and showed them candles, Kiddush wine and of course challah.

Next, I explained how this year three festivals all coincided - Purim, Easter and Ramadan - which showed how faiths celebrated their own festivals at the same time in harmony.

The children, all made greggors and rattles and I taught them “The Wickedest of All”, my “We hate Haman” song. They certainly loved the HAMAN BOO BOO BOO chorus

In the afternoon there was a whole school assembly where each Year told 360 children what they had learnt. At the end, with the help of my Year 2 “choir“, I taught the whole school about Shabbat and Purim. It was wonderful to see some 720 candles being held during Two Candles Burn (each child holding up two fingers representing the candles)

But when it came to the Haman song - well, the sound of Boo Boo Boo was deafening, and the roof nearly did come off.

The next morning I received an email from the school that started: “Stephen we have a problem.” I was worried about what had happened. But when I read the rest of the email: “All the staff and children are running around singing your songs! We can't get them out of our heads! How fantastic! The children had the most wonderful time, they were so enthusiastic.“

It made me realise that even in these continued troubled times there is indeed still hope for the future

Stephen Melzack

Borehamwood WD6

Tony Levy ("New life for books", Letters, 29 March) recommends donating books and items to the Black Country Living Museum. The main attractions of this museum, the similar Beamish Museum in the North East and other open air museums, are the reconstructions of shops, houses, schools, chapels, industrial buildings and transport infrastructure of the 19th and early 20th century towns. They do not have any synagogues, even though they represent periods when many towns had Jewish communities, shopkeepers, doctors, teachers etc. As those communities have aged, declined, fragmented and polarised, their synagogues have been converted to flats, offices, warehouses, halls, churches, mosques and temples, become derelict or demolished.

While restoration on-site is the ideal answer ("Why Merthyr Tydfil is rallying behind the restoration of its synagogue", 29 March), is it possible to reconstruct synagogues in the open air museums, to remind visitors of the strong Jewish life in provincial towns in the last two centuries?

Mark Drukker

Reading. Berkshire

Your archive article on April 1977 mentioning Rabbi Pinchus Shebson stirred a memory. Rabbi Shebson was regarded as a no nonsense minister who tolerate no alternative interpretation of Judaism. He was however an excellent communal leader who always supported the Jewish Welfare Board’s activities in Southend.

His so-called rigidity was shown to be very flexible when in 1979 JWB celebrated its 125th anniversary. A special commemorative service was arranged at the New Synagogue in Stamford Hill as it had been (in a previous location in the City) one of the founder congregations which created the Jewish Board of Guardians (JWB).

With the consent of Chief Rabbi Jakobovits, representatives of the Reform and Progressive communities were invited, along with many other communal organisations. On the day of the service a group of Orthodox rabbis - including the rabbi who was due to conduct the service - sent a message saying they could not attend if there were non-Orthodox clergy in the synagogue. Then threatening messages were sent about the safety of the Reform representatives. Rabbi John Rayner, the then Senior Rabbi at St John’s Wood Liberal Synagogue, told me that the threats reminded him how he felt on Kristalnacht.

Both the United Synagogue and the Chief Rabbi condemned the behaviour of a small number of Rabbonim. At the eleventh hour, Rabbi Shebson agreed to lead the very successful 125th Anniversary Service. He continued to support JWB‘s work when he moved to London after his retirement.

Melvyn Carlowe OBE

CEO JWB 1971-1990

CEO Jewish Care 1990-2001

April 04, 2024 13:56

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