Chana Hughes

Why I did not go on the march against antisemitism

Whether we attended the London rally last month or not, British Jews are all in this together

December 07, 2023 14:30

Last month’s March Against Antisemitism was historic. Thousands of people from different communities, Jews and non-Jews, walked side by side. The atmosphere was sombre yet purposeful. Chatting was interspersed with spontaneous singing of Jewish and Israeli songs. It was reassuring to see the diversity of both the Jewish presence and those from wider communities. Many left the march inspired with renewed confidence and Jewish pride, feeling that they had stood up and been counted.

I know this because my friends and family have told me about it. I couldn’t attend. My ten-year-old daughter had a dance performance last Sunday, for which she had been rehearsing for months. Although my mother-in-law explained her absence and joined the march, I felt I couldn’t let my daughter down. This made me think about the Jews who didn’t march and why.

Mass gatherings are usually arranged at the last minute and are not easily accessible for the elderly and those with young families or disabilities. Many of my friends had prior family commitments or pre-arranged plans on that Sunday. One family member who is autistic and anxious didn’t go because he couldn’t handle the noise and the crowds.

Matt and Gemma Owen had planned their wedding for last Sunday, and were upset to find such a significant clash in their calendars. Some of their wedding guests managed to attend both events, wearing Simcha clothes with trainers for the march and changing into formal footwear for the wedding later. How did the couple feel when they stood under the chuppah at the same time as the Chief Rabbi was giving his address in central London? “At first, we felt uncomfortable having a wedding during such a painful time for our community and at the same time as such an important gathering,” explained Michael. “But then we realised that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. Our wedding felt like a celebration of defiance. We were taking action in line with the marchers’ protest, openly celebrating our Jewish lives without fear.”

Although many rabbis attended the march, there were fewer attendees from the Charedi communities. This may be because the march was primarily publicised through social media, and the Charedi rabbis were not directly approached by the organisers. But historically, Charedi support for protests has been lower compared to other sectors of the community. One notable exception was the famous “March of the Rabbis” in 1943 when more than 400 prominent American rabbis marched to the Pentagon to draw attention to the ongoing destruction of European Jewry, but were largely ignored.

This time, Charedi Rabbonim did not advise against the march, and several attended. However, many Charedim chose to respond to antisemitism by deepening their religious devotion, praying more fervently, studying longer, and supporting others more generously. They decided to continue to live their Yiddishkeit proudly, rather than highlighting their fears and sharing them with the wider community.

It is important to consider who the march was for. Perhaps it seems obvious that it was for Jews. But the late Rabbi Lord Sacks once recommended that key public figures fighting antisemitism should not be Jewish. Curbing antisemitism should not solely be a Jewish responsibility. Perhaps the most important marchers on Sunday were our non-Jewish allies. It should be the friends and supporters of the victims, not the victims themselves, who have the responsibility and duty to change the system for the better.

On the streets of Edgware, another much smaller Jewish march took place last Sunday. A community called Tiferes Yisroel celebrated the completion of a new Torah scroll for their shul. Children lined the streets as music played. As is traditional, community members brought out their current Torah scrolls to welcome the new one. Together they danced the Torah underneath a chupah, representing the marriage between the Jewish people and their heritage. Several onlookers were moved to tears.

The positive thing has been the conversations since the march last week. Large-scale Jewish events often come with complaints, but this time I hear only gratitude and pride. There is little judgment for those who couldn’t attend and much appreciation for those who did. Perhaps this is a sign of our difficult times and the recent surge in unity. In our Jewish community, divisions matter less these days. Togetherness and solidarity matter most. We are all in this together, whether we marched last Sunday or not.

December 07, 2023 14:30

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