Israel’s newest pop sensation says antisemitic bullies hounded him out of Britain

Josh Brennan told judges of the talent show how 'nasty' experiences had led to him emigrating to Israel from London


Israel’s latest pop sensation has revealed how an antisemitic attack in London forced him to leave his British birthplace and seek fame in the Jewish state.

Josh Brennan, 27, tasted stardom this month on the Israeli TV talent show Rising Star (HaKokhav Haba). His first-round appearance, in which he sang an English version of the Omer Adam song ‘After all These Years (Never Fall)’, secured a massive 87 per cent approval vote from judges and fans. Contestants need 70 per cent to get to the next round.

After the performance, Josh told judges how “nasty” antisemitic experiences had led to him emigrating to Israel. The frankness of his account was headline news in Israel and has made him a household favourite.

Speaking to the JC this week, Josh disclosed the full story for the first time.

He had experienced antisemitism in Britain since the age of 11, he said, including seeing his best friend being assaulted on the bus near their Jewish school. He also suffered antisemitic abuse while at drama school.

But the crunch came when he was in the street two years ago. A man spotted his silver Star of David necklace, a gift from his grandparents.

“This random guy barged into me, spat at my feet and said, ‘you and your family belong in the chambers’, and then just walked off,” he said.

“I was shocked. I wanted to do something but my body just froze and I didn’t report it.”
The attack, in broad daylight in North Finchley, made him question whether or not he wanted to remain in the UK. Then came the final moment of realisation.

“A few days later, when I saw a different man with a swastika tattooed on his chest, I felt like this was a message for me to move to Israel,” he recalled.

They were defining moments for the aspiring singer-songwriter, who wasted no time in swapping Britain for the Jewish state.

Josh, who was educated at the modern orthodox school Yavneh College in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, said the incidents made him look deeper into his Jewish identity.

“My school taught Judaism from a religious aspect, but they really didn’t open our eyes to the historic element of it,” he said. “I think that going to an Orthodox school pushed me away from my Judaism because I didn’t connect to it in the way that was right for me. It actually had a negative effect on me. Not that I didn’t like the school, I just think it was a bit strong for me.

“When I hear the stories about Moses splitting the sea, it doesn’t resonate so much with me as going to the Land of Israel, digging into the ground and finding a 2,000-year-old coin with a menorah on it. It’s evidence that this is where my ancestors come from.

“It ultimately made me understand myself better. When you realise you are indigenous to a place, the connection just grows stronger. Learning about the dispersion of Jews from Judea really blew my mind.”

Although the incident two years ago in London was what Josh described as “the turning point”, it was in fact the culmination of years of antisemitic experiences, he revealed.

He said: “I remember witnessing antisemitism for the first time when I was about 11 years old. We experienced antisemitic attacks and racial slurs all the time coming out of school in our uniforms. My closest friend was elbowed in the face on a school bus.”

And later, while at drama school in Manchester as an 18-year-old, he was again targeted. “I remember someone came back drunk and deciding to deface my door with a pen, writing personal things about me, including ‘Jew’, and coloured my mezuzah. I got incredibly angry. That was the first time I started questioning things.”

The feeling of being scrutinised because of his Jewish background continued as a music undergraduate at Middlesex University, where Brennan said he would feel “almost forced to answer for Israel as a Jew,” whenever the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came up during discussions.

He said: “I was asked such intense questions, like I was the Prime Minister of Israel, having to defend my country.

“Then I would go on Twitter to do research about the conflict, and I would see so much antisemitism.”

The more Brennan researched Judaism and the history of the Jewish people, the more he started “falling in love with Israel and my roots”, he said, adding: “I realised that’s where I wanted to be.”

Now living in Tel Aviv, Josh is writing songs and music alongside a media venture he has launched with a friend, making videos for estate agents. His dreams, however, lie in the creative world, he said.

“I’ve always wanted to do music full-time. I love performing and I have a degree in music. I actually think I have better opportunities in Israel than the UK, as far as the music industry goes.

"Not everyone here is an Oleh Chadash (new immigrant), so in that way I stand out a bit. And with the Rising Star show, I definitely have a platform. I’ve started to write songs that are mixed English and Hebrew and hopefully one day I can write entire songs in Hebrew.”

He admits to feelings of “homesickness” at times and especially misses his family and friends, but says he sees “warning signs” that remind him of why he moved to Israel.

“Antisemitism in the UK, and all over Europe really, has definitely got worse in the past couple of years, especially during the pandemic,” he said.

“I’m so glad I found Israel and Israel found me and I hope to stay here forever.”

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