Are you sick of hearing about antisemitism? Is it time to turn down the volume?
Last week, children at Jewish day schools returned home with small memorial candles and tiny cards. Each card had the name of a child murdered in the Holocaust. “Ours” were Anja Rubinvitz and Luba Freid aged five and ten. We lit the candles, said the memorial prayer and stood quietly for a moment reflecting on lost innocence and lives so cruelly taken away.
It is hard to explain to your children that such evil exists in the world when you have tried to raise them in an environment where everything is sweetness and light. But, as any parent knows, you can only shield them for so long.
That Shabbat, my husband left for synagogue early. Our two sons, aged 12 and ten, left shortly afterwards. I stayed at home with our daughter as I was not feeling well. Despite my reservations, I had recently been persuaded that the boys should now be allowed to walk together to St Johns Wood Synagogue — a short route they’ve taken every week for most of their lives.
When the boys returned home from the synagogue they rushed up to my bedroom to hug me, both trying to fight back the tears.
It took me a couple of moments to realise what had happened, but when my husband came into the room, ashen-faced, it all became clear.
On the way home from shul they were verbally abused. After they left the synagogue with their father, they were followed by a young man shouting, taunting and swearing at them. They felt scared and they felt vulnerable.
The man followed them down the street calling them scum, their father scum, and every other f***ing Jewish name under the sun. They crossed to the other side of the road to get away, but the man continued his torrent of abuse, until a driver stuck at traffic lights, confronted him, and they made their way safely back home.
My boys love their Jewishness, with all that it brings, the familiarity of Shabbat, the Yom Tovs the simchahs, the celebrations, their family and friends. They have a sense of communal responsibility and a deep love of Israel. Their religion has made them feel safe in this ever fractured world.
Yet this incident struck them — and us as parents — to the core.
“Do you think he will be there next week,” they asked. Now, something they had always enjoyed doing without fear or recriminations was going to cause anxiety and worry.
Yes, we all know that antisemitism is out there, but when it arrives on your doorstep it brings it in to the clearest focus and straight into your home.
We called the CST and the police both of whom have been extremely helpful and supportive, reassuring us that they take such crimes seriously, and, subject to getting sufficient evidence, will seek prosecution, allowing us to give a positive message to the children.
Later, my elder son told me that he had told his brother to take off his kippah when he was walking. It was in stark contrast to when he was just eight and my mother collected him from his Jewish primary school. She had told him not to walk home with his kippah on in case other people didn’t like it and he had answered: “But Grandma, that is their problem — I’m Jewish and I’m proud.”
The following day at school, my son told me that they had a “staff 101”, or, as we would call it, a terrorist drill. He, together with his fellow pupils, have to hide under the desks. This is part of a Jewish education today — to be prepared for an impending attack. He is used to it now.
This is the year of my elder son’s barmitzvah and I wonder how these things will affect his religious choices, and shape his view of the world.
A policeman was at our house taking a statement from his father, when my son came home from school. I told him that a family friend had sent his love. “Oh,” he said, “you told him?”
“Sure,” I replied, “there is no need to hide it. It is not your fault.”
“I haven’t told anyone at school,” my elder son said. “I’m not really sure what to say…”
“Don’t be afraid to tell people your experience,” I said to him.
And so to those who say it’s time to talk about something different and turn down the volume on antisemitism, I say there has never been a time to be more vocal.