Clive Lawton

On Commonwealth Day, Jews can mark their shared wealth too

While we have been in the EU, the Commonwealth has evolved, the chief executive of its Jewish Council writes

March 08, 2020 00:01

It is probably because of Brexit that a few Britons are starting to wonder about the Commonwealth again. Most people likely think of it as it was originally, an alliance of former colonies with Britain retaining its leadership in a slightly self-effacing way.

But that is at least four decades out of date. While we’ve been away in the EU, the “Commonwealth of Nations” has been evolving. Its leadership is drawn from across the Commonwealth and, more remarkably, not all its members are former British colonies. Indeed, the upcoming biennial Heads of Governments summit is taking place in one of the Commonwealth’s newest members, Rwanda, was never British at all. Furthermore, other countries are queuing up to join.

Monday is Commonwealth Day. One of the liveliest, most colourful, multi-cultural — and multi-religious — services is going to take place, as it does every year, at Westminster Abbey.

And the Commonwealth Jewish Council will be there. As an accredited Commonwealth organisation, one of only 70 in the whole world, the CJC plays its full part in not only bringing together the 35+ Jewish communities in the Commonwealth, but making sure that a Jewish voice is heard in its deliberations.

The Commonwealth includes 54 nations and 2.3 billion people, virtually a third of the entire world. Like the Commonwealth, we too are headquartered in London but have leaders from all over the world. Our members range from the Caribbean to Asia, from the Mediterranean to Africa. We have huge complex communities like Canada in our number as well as tiny ones like Zambia or St Lucia. Some are long established and centuries old, like Jamaica, and others are brand-new, like the Abuyadaya of Uganda.

My recent trip to one of our regions brought me into contact with our communities in Melbourne and Sydney, Auckland, Mumbai, Hong Kong and Singapore. In the last, I had the unfamiliar experience of being checked before entering shul, not by having bags searched or being asked why I was there, but by having my temperature taken!

The Commonwealth Jewish Council reveals something truly exciting but obvious. Jews the world over are wonderfully the same and yet magnificently and fascinatingly different. We work daily with the vast variety that makes the Jewish world so very interesting. We impoverish our understanding and shrink our horizons when we think that the Jews are basically those in the UK, America and Israel.

Each of our communities is an inspiration. Whether it is learning from the impressive organisation and growth of Canadian or Australian Jewry, or the unique challenges of being a tiny community in the centre of Africa, every encounter we have lifts our spirits and inspires us further. We Jews are truly a fascinating and impressive bunch.

And we raise our voices in the Commonwealth for the benefit of all. Our campaign “Small Islands: Big Challenges” recognises the distressing reality of many small island nations facing imminent disappearance and wondering if it is possible to retain their identity if they are driven from their homeland. Our hearts go out to them, which is why we are urging all Jews and others of goodwill to know that current climate concerns are not for the future but are current pressures and challenges to small peoples like us, and we will not leave them feeling friendless.

So on Monday give a thought to our own Commonwealth of Nations, our own network of Jewish communities, and resolve to broaden your vision of the Jewish world and what we can do.

Clive Lawton is chief executive of the Commonwealth Jewish Council

March 08, 2020 00:01

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