The flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
“An Anti-Semite is a person who hates
the Jews more than is absolutely necessary!
President Shimon Peres
(Quotation attributed to Israeli President Shimon Peres defining Anti-Semitism in the U.K.)
Much has been written about anti-semitism in the U.K.
This is a personal memoir of my exposure to this phenomenon when I lived in England.
I come from the middle class background of a Non- Orthodox Jewish family living in a “Jewish Neighbourhood” of London.
My Mother kept a Kosher home but we were only “3 days a year Jews”. My Father went to synagogue for the two days of Rosh Hashana ( the Jewish New Year) and the one day of Yom Kippur ( the Day of Atonement).
Additionally it was a family custom to spend the Seder Nights of Pessah ( Passover) at the home of my mother’s parents.
I hated it, because, as the youngest person, I had to ask the “4 questions” in Hebrew. ( The customary way of starting the proceedings). I didn’t understand the language so I mouthed the words parrot fashion.
For me the whole experience was torture The prayers and singing before, during and after the meal extended the eating experience interminably. I was always happy to go home.
So, you may understand, that my links to Judaism were tenuous at best. I never identified with the Concept of a God (or the “God Delusion” as Richard Dawkins describes it).
At home, the only connection to the idea of a Jewish homeland was the presence of the JNF Blue Box . Just a small collection box with a map of Palestine on it’s sides.
I knew that I was Jewish,
but that held no special meaning for me, not at nursery school and not at Junior school.
At age 9, I was sent to a boys’ preparatory school for special tuition. This was deemed necessary if I was to have a chance of getting into a Grammar School
It was there that I encountered my first “Jewish”experience. It was not anti-semitism as such, but the impression it made is still with me. The headmaster was talking to my class and somehow the word “choose” was mentioned.
Trying to make a play on the word, he said “there are no Jews here, we’re all English”.
I remember feeling a sense of shock;
up until that moment the idea that I was different , in any way, from my classmates, had never crossed my mind. Everyone duly laughed and the lesson moved on. I don’t believe that the headmaster was an anti-semite in the conventional sense, but I question the effect of such a remark on a group of impressionable 9 year olds. The rest of my time there was uneventful.
At age 11, I secured a place in a Grammar School ( now called “High School”)
The school was very well known and had a reputation for educational excellence within a highly disciplined framework; it had a total of around 800 pupils- boys only!
On my very first day,
I was walking to the school feeling very smart in my “Harry Potter style” school uniform. Suddenly, I was accosted in the street by a group of older boys. They surrounded me and without any preliminary banter asked me “are you of the Hebrew persuasion?”
My old school in a different era
I was not aware that I looked especially “Jewish” but, it seems, I did. My reaction was a mixture of bewilderment, fear and panic. I had never experienced such a situation before, and had no idea how to react. I tried to ignore the question, mumbled something unintelligible and pushed through to the school which was nearby. I subsequently learned that something similar had happened to most of the Jewish pupils on that day. I don’t recall telling my parents about the incident, for reasons that I cannot remember.
Jews are frequently accused of being cliquish and separatist.
In this school there was a situation that guaranteed that Jews would inevitably be regarded differently
Let me explain.
This was a state school, theoretically, not affiliated to any religion. Indeed it was bound by the education laws to treat religious worship, and religious teaching ,separately from secular subjects.
At the beginning of each school day, a general assembly of all the pupils and staff was held in the Great Hall.
This took about 30 minutes and was divided between a short service of Protestant Christian worship and special announcements about school matters. Within this school of 800 boys there were 42 Jews and 28 Roman Catholics.
Given the era ( the 1950’s) there were no other races or religions represented.
So, in accordance with the law, the Jews went to a classroom where they held a religious service, led by the senior pupils. The Roman Catholics did the same in their classroom. At the conclusion of the services the Jews and Catholics entered the Great Hall to join the rest of the school for the announcements.
Picture the scene.
Almost 800 Christian pupils and masters have just concluded a service honouring Jesus Christ. Suddenly, the doors at the back of the hall open and in walk the Jews and Catholics. For some reason, we were obliged to walk almost to the front of the Hall with 800 pairs of eyes following our every move. Then we sat down for the remainder of the assembly. The same scenario every day of every week of every school year.
A daily reminder that the Jews were different. Since this was not Northern Ireland, the Protestant Christians did not discriminate against the Catholics as they did the Jews. After all, they were united in their common belief that the Jews were responsible for the death of their mutual savior.
The description above is to give some context and background to what happened subsequently. This post is entitled “genteel anti-semitism”. What happened to Jews in my school over the next few years could hardly be described as genteel. Anti- Jewish sentiment was rampant. Anti-semitic remarks were commonplace.
Attacks and beatings in the playground occurred regularly.
School badge and motto: "Worth not Birth"
The teachers either turned a blind eye, or singled out the Jews for punishment. Only if the bullying was too blatant to be ignored did they punish all parties. Without the connivance of the teachers, in general, and the Headmaster in particular, none of this could have happened.
For whatever reason, maybe because we were such a small minority, or, perhaps because the situation seemed to be the accepted norm, we just lived with it.
At around age 15 a few of us decided that enough was enough. When we learned of attacks or planned attacks, we approached the perpetrators and made them understand, not too gently, that they would have to account to us in future.
The “vigilante” tactic worked and the bullying of the younger Jews virtually stopped. What happened to Jews in this school, and how we solved the problem, has, probably, influenced my worldview ever since.
Before moving on, it’s relevant to tell of an event, which caused the Jews great discomfort
The BBC organised a general knowledge competition for schools throughout the UK. The winning school would be awarded the accolade of “Top of the Form”. My school was invited to participate. A series of tests were undertaken to select the four pupils who would represent the school
Of the final four contestants, three were Jews!
The resentment was palpable, despite the fact that selection was on merit and knowledge alone,
This was a totally different experience.In my course alone, at least 50% of the students were from overseas.
My first experience of multiculturalism!
Although many of the UK students were Jewish, I don’t recall any serious anti-semitism in these years. We integrated well and my personal group of friends comprised one Jew, one very Christian Gentile and one Indian.
Outside the bubble of University, the real world was waiting.
I encountered many problems in trying to serve the necessary internship. It was nearly a year after obtaining my degree before I found an employer whose desperation must have exceeded mine.
In the commercial environment, you learn to “ride with the punches” This means that you decide to let the anti-semitic comments and, worse, the “Jewish jokes” pass over your head without reaction. Sometimes, if it’s known that you are Jewish, the remark or joke is qualified with “but not you, of course”. Then there’s the old standby “some of my best friends are Jews!”. All you have to do is swallow hard, smile sweetly and move on as if nothing had happened.
In later years when I moved into the world of commerce, the situations I referred to above were simply more numerous. I was aware that certain contracts and deals were not finalised when it was revealed that I was a Jew. And, of course, always difficult to be absolutely certain whether or not decisions had been made on merit only, or if there was the other hidden dimension. It’s difficult in such circumstances, not to be accused of being paranoid. I agree that is a possibility. Years of innuendo can do that to a person.
Of course, it is a fact that many Jews have succeeded in the U.K.
There are Jewish Judges and Lawyers, Doctors and Scientists, Politicians and Professors, Artists and Entertainers, Businessmen and Financiers, and the list goes on.
I don’t claim that a Jew cannot live, succeed and prosper in the. U.K. It all depends on whether you’re willing to pay the price.
One way in which many Jews deal with the situation is by a form of “Ghettoisation”.
By living in clearly defined communities, with access to synagogues, kosher food shops, Jewish schools and kindergartens etc.they compartmentalise their lives into private and public elements.
I know. I did it for enough years.
The desire not to change the relative material comfort of their lives is understandable. The pull of family and business considerations is very strong. So, what if there are places you cannot go or clubs you can’t join. For many, it’s a small price to pay.
The anti-semitism that I encountered was tolerable since it was usually nuanced and subtle. It’s a technique that the English have almost turned into an art form. They have had many years to perfect it.
However, the situation today is not what it was when I left 25 years ago.
"Out of the mouths of babes"
Violent anti-semitic acts are much more commonplace. Anti-Zionism is frequently the blood brother (literally) of anti semitism. Attacks on synagogues and Jewish property are not unusual. There were 283 recorded incidents of such attacks in the six month period from January – June 2011. The rise of militant Islam and a perception that Israel is the cause of the world’s ills, are significant factors.
The Jewish leadership in the U.K. has followed the historical reaction of the ghetto Jew. Keep a low profile and don’t do anything which might upset or irritate the Goyim ( non Jews). It’s a survival mode which has worked, more or less, for thousands of years.
Of course, today, with the existence of Israel, Jews no longer have to live that way.
There is another option.
Instead of living in the U.K. being either tolerated or villified by the local population only, they could move to Israel.
Here they can be part of a society pretty much hated by most of the world!
Andyboy – Telling it as it is
Click on these links for 2 interesting views on UK Anti-Semitism From George Orwell and Anthony Julius
Not so "genteel" any more