Saturday 30 November 2019

A member of the New North London Synagogue writes:

[I'm reproducing this letter with the permission of its author Jack Shamash, who had posted it on Facebook.]

I've just written this letter to my rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg at the NNLS ( New North London Synagogue). He's actually a very nice man and very genuine. Anyway, this is what I wrote.

Dear Jonathan, I hope all is well.

I have never discussed politics with you - deliberately. As a rabbi it must be hard to retain neutrality in such issues and to reconcile the widely different views of the congregants. I didn't see any point in trying to elicit your political viewpoint.

However I am deeply upset by recent events. As a Jew in Southgate Labour party I have never been made to feel uncomfortable. I have never heard any antisemitic expressions. But as a labour supporter in NNLS I feel very uncomfortable.

Even by the figures produced by the Jewish community, there is almost no antisemitism in this country. (check out the annual reports of the CST) In 2017 and 2018 there was only one serious antisemitic incident in which a jewish person was nearly beaten up - that's all! Yet the chief rabbi - who only represents a small proportion of Jews - is trying to scare his own community and trying to put the blame on the Labour party. I think this is a very dangerous game and entirely irresponsible.

If he succeeds in swaying a large number of Jews, there will almost certainly be a backlash which will affect the community. Rabbi Mirvis, who you suggest is a fine and compassionate man, has claimed that Corbyn supports people who kill Jews. It would just as true to suggest that Mirvis and the Jewish community support people who kill Palestinians and other Arabs. It would even be true to suggest that Mirvis and the Rabbinate idolise people such as Menachem Begin who murdered British soldiers. It seems utterly foolish for a Jewish leader to embark on this conversation.

I was deeply upset to hear one of your younger rabbis, denouncing labour antisemitism in his sermon on shabbat. I attended the meeting at the synagogue when a young member of the labour party burst into tears claiming that he was victimised by labour members. He never told us who had said these bad things or what had been said. I have never heard of an incident of a labour MP saying anything antisemitic. By contrast we have Boris Johnson talking about arabs looking like pillar boxes, black people being picannnies and tank topped bumboys. And unlike Mr Corbyn, he has never apologised for any hurt he has caused. Maybe your rabbis should show more solidarity with the 'picanninies, bumboys and letter boxes'.

I realise that in your letter on facebook site, you have tried to retain a sense of perspective. But unless you take a stronger stance on these matters, it will be very difficult to heal the divisions and make NNLS - once again - welcoming to all sections of society and Jews of all political viewpoints.

yours sincerely

Jack Shamash