Loyalty to our past has to come second to our loyalty to the future

December 05, 2016 00:35

In a culture resplendent with traditions, let me share one that is not universally adopted.

Much like every minhag, it only applies to those of us who originate from specific geographies. But I'm not talking Poland, Portugal or Persia.

The custom, practised almost uniquely by people born within the boundaries of the North Circular, is to ask someone where they're from, and then, on learning of their home town, repeat it back in a wildly exaggerated, stereotypical accent.

And take it from someone who grew up in "Whiiiiitefield", with a dad from "Glazgee" and wife from "Nuuu-kasssel", it's always utterly hilarious.


Vast numbers of us have ended up down south

Don't get me wrong, I know it's just innocent banter, and the perfect icebreaker, offering multiple classic jump-offs like "Oh, I went there once [insert story]…" and unlimited "Do you know x?" Jewography interrogations.

It's just that it sometimes feels we provincials are painted as exotic visitors from the faraway lands of Mancunia, Liverpudlia and Loidis, rather than almost carbon-copy semites from 200 miles up the M1.

Now, of course, proud as many of us are of our roots, there's no getting away from the fact that vast numbers of us have ended up down south, creating a genuinely diverse cholent - rather than a melting pot.

And being the minority within the minority is special. There's a camaraderie in finding yourself next to someone who went to the same school, remembers the same local characters or elongates the same vowels as you.

But, all this aside, there's also a tension that sits uneasily with those of us "here", and our family and friends back "there".

Those still back home increasingly feel they are the last stand of a condemned outpost. "You'll never come back here." "Young people won't settle here again." "In a generation, our community will be gone."

It's undeniable that the provinces of Anglo Jewry are disappearing, polarising around London and Manchester. Padlocks on the gates of once-thriving synagogues in Glasgow, Sunderland, Liverpool and many more are appearing with increasing frequency.

Having lived through the good years, with the unique quirks, broiguses and personalities that defined each of our communities, those who remain must now plan for the day they'll switch off their shul's everlasting light for the last time.

And even though the impact of assimilation has been far greater on the provinces than the observant migration, we're the ones who feel the guilt: "If you're frum there, why not be frum here?"

I think that's a bit unfair. We're away from where we started, for all manner of reasons, but every provincial Jew I've met is fiercely proud of where they came from. We set down roots in NW4, N11 and WD6, but with a deliberate flavour of M45, LS17, G46, NE3 and B15.

Add in the diasporas of Australia, the US, France, Gibraltar, Israel and so many more, and you've got what must be one of the most richly diverse Jewish communities in the world. And that can only be a good thing.

So, if we are contributing to the decline of our childhood schools and shuls, we are doing so in order that the descendants of these communities survive and thrive in the same vibrant environment those who came before enjoyed.

And when it comes down to it, we'd all pick Jewish continuity over real estate continuity.

Loyalty to our past will always matter to those of us fortunate enough to have come from these very special kehillot. But in order to extend that legacy, loyalty to our past has to come second to our loyalty to the future.

December 05, 2016 00:35

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