Taking pride in displaying such split personalities

November 24, 2016 23:22

At the Ajex parade last month, shivering in the morning wind and watching Jewish veterans from around the UK fall in line, as they've done for decades, my eye was immediately drawn to the poppy wreaths shaped as Stars of David.

Something to be very proud of, I thought. What a striking image; a visual reminder of our community's enduring presence at the heart of British society. It left me thinking about what it means to be a British Jew today.

The parade dates back to a time when others needed reminding of our patriotism. Set up in part to tell the world that British Jews did their duty, it recalls a time when, despite the enormous contribution of British Jews in the war , fascist sentiment was gaining sympathy and Jews were still often viewed with distrust. A time when Jewish loyalty was still seen as a question, not a given.

We've come a long way. Though we pray for the Queen and her entire family in shul, we are far from having to prove our fidelity. Even conceiving of a time when we were unwelcome is difficult for my generation. We are British and Jewish and it is reassuringly rare to hear someone question whether we can be both.

Yes, antisemitism persists. Yes, bigotry has not died out - as the boss of Wigan football club, Dave Whelan, has recently reminded us - but then look at the outrage this triggers. Politicians do not tolerate antisemitism; instances of it make national news. Jews are part of the British establishment; criticism of Labour's Jewish leader is about his leadership not his Jewishness.

It's too easy to take our patriotic loyalty for granted

Last summer, some suggested something had shifted. Antisemitism was up, with Gaza rarely out of the headlines and too many insinuations that diaspora Jews might have some case to answer. The Jewish Film Festival faced a boycott threat. "We are seeing the beginning of the end of Jewish history in Europe," warned Natan Sharansky. Yet, for all that, I never felt any less certain of my place as British Jew. Nor am I am worried for our future. Israel may divide opinion but British Jewry - the people, the practice - is here to stay. We no longer need to demonstrate our loyalty; the Ajex march is nowadays far more about commemoration than answering our critics.

Still, looking at those wreaths, I was struck by pride in being a British Jew, but also the recognition that it is too easy - certainly for my generation - to take this for granted. Yet, does the fact that our community's place here is secure mean there is no value in celebrating its contribution? Just because we don't have to prove our patriotism should we be reluctant to demonstrate it?

If we only emphasise our pride in our British Jewish identity when we have to - rather than just because - that sends a worrying message, one that rings false. We do not pray for the Queen in order to bank some kind of "patriotic capital", but because we mean it and because, for generations, such patriotism has been at the core of who we are as a community. We are, and continue to be, British Jews, loyal to our faith and to our home. How we relate to our country must be about more than safeguarding ourselves from prejudice or offsetting the threat of antisemitism. It must be about being proud to share Britain's identity and proud of how this intersects with our religious one. It must be about celebrating British traditions with the fervour we celebrate Jewish ones.

As a community, we are good at celebrating both aspects of our identity; the Diamond Jubilee was a case in point. We need to ensure this continues. That means being outward-looking and engaging with the political process, even when we do not seek reassurances from it; and ensuring that our Judaism does not close off to changes in wider society - whether these relate to what faith schools teach or the role of women etc - not to protect our reputation, but because it is the right course.

We no longer need to take to the streets to showcase our patriotism, but neither should we take for granted our British Jewish identity. Those Magen David wreaths, and all they signify, are something to be proud of, then, now and in the future.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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