Labour leadership frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer has revealed he participates in Friday-night dinners with his family, at which his proudly Jewish father-in-law says prayers.
Speaking to the JC, the Holborn and St Pancras MP said he felt comfortable attending family and communal “barmitzvahs, weddings, and funerals”.
The married father of two children also said he had “no issue” with standing for the traditional toast to the president of the state of Israel at Jewish weddings.
He told the JC: “I don’t have any issue with that — or with any of the traditions.”
Sir Keir also confirmed that following the death of his mother-in-law last month, who tragically lost her life following a road accident, a rabbi from the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood conducted the funeral service.
Sir Keir is determined to protect his family’s privacy and the JC has agreed not to disclose the names of family members.
As Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the 57-year-old has endured a relentless work schedule over the past few years.
Now favourite to replace current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on April 4, Sir Keir’s workload is unlikely to decrease, but he says he still cherishes Friday nights “which we actually do as a family.”
He added: “As you probably know my wife’s family is Jewish. On her father’s side there are barmitzvahs, synagogues — there’s all the traditions.”
While the family does not come together every single week, Sir Keir said that for the father of his wife, Victoria, it is “obviously important” that they try to congregate as frequently as possible.
He revealed other members of his extended family host more religious Shabbat gatherings, which the Labour MP “goes along to without any issues”. But he said Friday nights at his own family house in north London are somewhat more “gentle”.
But he said that as Shabbat comes in his father-in-law would “say prayers too.
“It is about just being with the family,” said Sir Keir.
“It’s about being a bit more disciplined, about being home with our children and the family — they are growing up fast.
“When you’re an MP or running to be leader of the Labour Party there is a heavy pull on your diary all of the time and it’s the easiest thing in the world just to fill it all up.”
Sometimes, Friday-night arrangements do not come to fruition, he admitted.
“We try — it doesn’t always work,” he added.
Sir Keir revealed he visited some of London’s major synagogues — often for family occasions such as a recent barmitzvah in Hendon.
There are also more spontaneous visits, such as the one he made to South Hampstead shul after the nearby antisemitic graffiti incidents in December.
“On that Saturday I wanted to go because there had been those horrible graffiti attacks around,” he revealed.
“I actually wanted to go without press or publicity or tweeting about it. To me, that was far more in keeping with the sense of standing with people. To just walk to the synagogue from home and join in.
“I wasn’t actually expecting to speak, just to be present, but I was asked to talk. I didn’t make a long thing, I just explained why I was there.”
Sir Keir also said that he and South Hampstead Rabbi Shlomo Levin “get on a treat”.
He continued: “I would call Shlomo a friend.
“I’ve done a number of events there and I’ve also been to see him there to discuss various issues. That’s been very helpful for me.
“He is obviously very proud of the new synagogue that has been built there.
“It’s a fantastic building. He is also very keen that it is used across communities, for interfaith.”
He added that he “felt very comfortable” and was left grateful by the “very warm reception” he got from the congregation at South Hampstead following his brief speech, which included Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl and London Jewish Forum founder Adrian Cohen.
Confirming he had “a number” of extended family members who live in Tel Aviv, Sir Keir should he would not want others to “read too much” into his comments about Zionism made at last month’s Jewish Labour Movement hustings event.
All the Labour candidates were asked if they considered themselves to be “Zionists”.
Sir Keir had indicated that while he “sympathised” with Zionism, he would not describe himself as a “Zionist”.
“I believe in the state of Israel, and as a secure homeland for its people,” he had said.
“Lisa Nandy [the rival Labour leadership candidate] had made the point that Zionism has become weaponised and means different things to different people. That was why I gave that answer.
“If the definition of ‘Zionist’ is someone who believes in the state of Israel, in that sense I’m a Zionist.”
He also paid tribute to Georgia Gould, the Jewish leader of the Labour-run Camden Council.
“We do a lot of work with the Jewish community there, a lot of interfaith work,” he explained.
“What I have tried to do in Camden is what I would try to do as leader of the party, which is try to have that active engagement and contact the whole time.
“I would hope that most of the Jewish community in Camden would say, ‘Yes we can always get hold of Keir when we need to’.”