The JC Letters Page, 16th November 2018

David Glasser, Stephen Cohen, Gabriel Herman, Dr Tony Klug, William Sholto, Efrat Levy, Lionel Blumenthal, Cerys Owens and Les Cazin share their views with JC readers

November 15, 2018 11:42

Ben Uri’s mission

Those who have not had the opportunity to read our announcement or the 24-page Strategic Plan (both on our website) may have misconceptions based on condensed news reports (Letters, November 9). 

With regard to Jewish heritage and identity, there has been no change. We continue to proudly represent the Jewish community and its artistic heritage. Since the reopening in 2002, following six years without a gallery, we have staged some 90 exhibitions.  Many have been exhibited in 20 UK cities, most with a small (or no) Jewish community. 

Other exhibitions have toured to Jerusalem, Miami and New York. Over 40 books have been published. Our curators are recognised internationally as leading scholars on the lives and work of Jewish refugee and émigré artists to Britain. Our work takes the Jewish experience in the 20th-century and contemporary British visual arts to wide and diverse audiences. Our collection is fully digitised and our strategic plan intensifies this work.

Our current exhibition (A Financial Times critics’ choice) shows that, far from selling the “family silver” we have added  “gold” to the family collection.  Since 2002 we have added over 300 works of which 290 are by Jewish artists. Come to Ben Uri this month to see just 15 per cent of what we have added. The works include the country’s finest Soutine and major Judaica subjects by Chagall, Gertler, Levy, Naviasky and Wolmark, to name just a few. 

Our disposal policy is driven by our revised Collecting Matrix to give new life to many works that have been in store for decades but never seen. This is a problem shared with most museums worldwide — 95 per cent of their collections are in store at any one time and many items are never  exhibited. We question the public benefit generated by works unseen and held in long-term storage; we have addressed the issue constructively with the Israel Museum who are de-accessioning some $15m-worth of their modern art collection this year through Christies.

At the heart of everything we have done in the past 16 years is distinctiveness. We enhance, not dilute, the Jewish experience by sharing our collection. 

The research unit will formalise our work into forgotten as well as famous Jewish émigré artists. It will cover the immigrant contribution to British visual arts since 1900, initially focusing on immigrants from Europe and Russia. This will allow the extensive impact of Jewish scholars, publishers and dealers, as well as artists, to be properly and thoroughly recorded. 

Our Art and Dementia Institute builds on ten years of work in this important field using reproductions of our collection for this project. We are one year into a three-year trial at Nightingale House, based on our careful research.

Ben Uri continues to proudly represent the community in London’s wider mainstream cultural arena. The Strategic Plan is wholly designed to continue this and add distinctive public benefit.

David Glasser
Chair, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum

Inexcusable absence

My wife and I were proud and privileged to have attended  “A Service of Solemn Remembrance  and  Hope” at Westminster Abbey  on the 80th anniversary of  Kristallnacht, on November 8.

Those taking part included three witnesses of Kristallnacht, all in their 90s, who recounted, with great clarity,  the  horrors that they had witnessed. 
Memorial candles were  lit  by, among others,  the Ambassador of Israel, Mark Regev, and  a representative of the German Ambassador.

There were choral contributions from the Zemel  Choir,  as well as the choirs of the West London, and Belsize Square synagogues, and moving addresses were given by Baroness Neuberger and Rabbi Wittenberg.

But there was one notable absence — a representative from the United Synagogue.

It is possible that the Chief Rabbi was unable to attend, but a representative of his office could surely have been present.

This absence felt like an insult to the courageous survivors and also  to  the Dean of Westminster Abbey, who had facilitated the service. As the dreadful events in Pittsburgh demonstrated, antisemites have never distinguished  between the different branches of Judaism , so why should the Orthodox leaders have not been represented at this  event and shown their solidarity with the whole of Klal Yisroel?

As a member of the United Synagogue, I felt embarrassed and angry with the behaviour, by their absence, of the leaders of my branch of Judaism, at such an important event.

Stephen Cohen
Rickmansworth,  Herts

In these days of environmental concern, shuls shouldn’t really be leaving lights on all night to commemorate Kristallnacht. 

Perhaps we could instead place a poster or sculpture outside synagogues that would at least provide some context to the passing public about this dreadful event.

Gabriel Herman 
London NW3 

More bad language

In your leader of November 9 (Bad language), you berate Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies, for having a “tin ear” for language for suggesting that “we have seen the warning signs of genocide before” in responding to a question about Labour and antisemitism. You see her “grotesque warping of history” as part of an emerging pattern of “injudicious language”.

To contrast this tendency with your own efforts is a monumental chutzpah. The claim that the JC has merely been “holding the party to account” is itself an abuse of language given the paper’s relentless campaign to destroy confidence in the Labour Party, oust its democratically elected leader and exhort all Jews to desert a party to which millions of disadvantaged people around the country look in hope for a more just and equal society. 

The JC or its editor has put the wind up many Jews and alienated many other people with such over-the-top statements as “antisemitism is a cancer at the heart of the Labour Party” and that “Labour is now run by thugs and dangerous bigots”.

Certainly, there is a distressing problem of antisemitism within the Labour Party (as there is in other parties) despite efforts, albeit inadequate, to deal with it, but making these absurdly inflated charges has been fuelling a toxic climate that has paved the way for such wildly exaggerated claims as complained of by your editorial. 

Is it not time for the JC to hold itself to account before more damage is inflicted on inter-communal relations (to say nothing of the English language)?

(Dr) Tony Klug  

Corbed enthusiasm

What a turn-up! A tribute by Jeremy Corbyn in the JC  (November 9) for an East End Jew, Max Levitas, who witnessed the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

I join the Labour politician in respect for the memory of all who stood up against Mosley and think the JC also deserves congratulation for publishing this unexpected eulogy.

But hasn’t Mr Corbyn led readers to misapprehend the political affiliation of the late Mr Levitas, who incidentally was far from being unique.  Many of us grew up sharing resentment at the half-hearted British response to the rise of Nazism  and aggression in Europe until Mr Churchill took charge.

What Mr Corbyn left unsaid  is about as revealing as his patently sincere praise for the deceased. 

William Sholto
Barnet, Herts.

You mention that Jeremy Corbyn differentiates between the good and the bad Jews. Does the JC differentiate between the good and the bad antisemites? Why give Corbyn a platform?  He is just using Max Levitas’s obituary to whitewash his opinions in the eyes of the Jewish community.

Efrat Levy
London NW11

Weak reaction to hate

The soothing words of the Prime Minister last week at her meeting with representatives of Anglo Jewry (JC, November 9) reaffirming her commitment to stamping out antisemitism are of no comfort to us, given the facts on the ground. Anti hate legislation may be on the statute book but will remain a dead letter unless and until it is activated by the CPS. 

Unfortunately, that body has over a period of years refused to take action against anti-Jewish hatemongers.

Incredibly, it has sought to justify its inaction by asserting that its refusal is the “hallmark of a civilised society”.  Most recently, it has refused to prosecute the leader of a pro Hizbollah parade in London for  inflammatory harangue which can only encourage Jew-haters.

And it has gone further by blocking a private prosecution brought by the Campaign against Antisemitism (which is now seeking a judicial review).
Is the CPS waiting for a Pittsburgh-type attack in this country before it takes action?

Lionel Blumenthal
London NW11 

War connections sought

I am trying to track down two Polish Jewish evacuees that came to live with my Gran and her parents during the Second World War. I don’t have exact dates (my Gran is now 97) but we think it was 1940. They lived in Loughor near Swansea and the Llanelli synagogue contacted my Gran’s parents for the eldest boy to attend the synagogue. The boys were Herman and Henry Rotzpan (not sure on spelling or if names were Anglicised, surname pronounced Rothspan) My Gran’s parents were Evan and Maggie Mainwaring and my Gran is Margaret/Peggy. If anyone is  able to help or can point me in the right direction, we would really appreciate this. 

Cerys Owens

I was in Ypres for the Armistice centennial commemorations and while there visited several war graves. I came across graves of Jewish servicemen and took photographs and if there are descendants of the following would be pleased to send copies of the stones:

Delville Wood Cemetery
H Levy, private 39584, South Wales Borderers killed October 22, 1916.
Rifleman S/17981 The Rifle Brigade, killed September 13 1916 aged 24, (I believe the stone also reads “mourned by wife and daughter”.
French Cemetery
A French soldier (possibly Levy Marx, Soldat), mort pour la France, 1915
My son has photos from:
Delville Wood Cemetery
SPTS/ 1647 Private  Royal Fusiliers
S Littman, killed 27/7/1916
Hyde Park Corner Cemetery Ploegstreet
Private A Cohen
Hon Artillery Company
Killed either October or December 1916 aged 24
Tyne Cot cemetery
J Jacobs 203493 Private, Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry, killed 22nd August 2017, aged 21. There is an inscription at the base which may be from Mother or Father and Brothers or sisters.

Les Cazin
St Albans

November 15, 2018 11:42

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