Rosh Hashanah is both a time for reflection and for ‘achdus’; coming together. It is also a time for looking towards the future while not forgetting the past.
The past year has been a particularly troubling time with growing political and religious divisions both within and outside our community. This has come against a backdrop of fears about antisemitism and Islamophobia. Social media has provided a platform where racism and other forms of hate speech can be amplified which in turn can spill over into the political arena resulting in too many people feeling vulnerable.
There is a danger that the apparent acceptability of this hate speech will come to be seen as the “new normal” – just part of everyday life.
The controversies over the past few months have come at a time when political developments in the USA, the UK and mainland Europe have led to increasing popularity of extremists.
In 2016, racial attacks in the UK increased generally after the vote to leave the EU, and police and other authorities are now concerned about a possible further increase in hate crime after Brexit.
Politicians, of all parties, as well as communal leaders, have a particular responsibility not to inflame the situation and should avoid causing distress to any community.
One thing we can do to counter these trends is to make sure that whatever political party we support, we should make it our priority to find out what transparent policies and procedures they have in place to deal with racism, whether directed at Black people, Muslims or Jews.
All parties should be challenged to ensure their procedures are robust and not merely words on paper.
One requirement would be for each of them to use their upcoming party conferences this autumn to explain fully, not only to their own members and supporters, but also to the wider British public, precisely what measures they are going to put forward and how they will be evaluated, which, in turn, would set a good example to other institutions.
All this needs to be accompanied by strong and unambiguous leadership to make it clear to politicians and party members that they will be held to account for unacceptable statements and behaviour.
It would also give confidence to different communities to work together to move beyond their own “isms”. In our current febrile political climate, such solidarity is vital.
And where does that leave our community?
The arguments about antisemitism and Islamophobia within political
parties have taken their toll on our community as well and we need to find ways to acknowledge our differences. We must not perpetuate an environment where questioning and debate are unwelcome and the democratic space within our community seems to be shrinking.
We must deal with our differences without rancour. We must also be on guard against creating unacceptable scenarios: good Jew v bad Jew, real Jew v marginal Jew, Jews with a right to have a voice v those who do not.
This is having a bad effect on the community, in particular alienating many younger Jews. Living in this atmosphere of negativity is not good for us. It is also counterproductive for our relationships with people and organisations outside our community. It is surely better that we find ways of acknowledging and appreciating that disagreements are inevitable and healthy.
The world faces challenging problems, such as the growing threat of race hate, and the unacceptable treatment of asylum seekers and migrants.
Our energy needs to be redirected to find productive ways to deal with some of these problems. Dissent, disagreements and debate have always been cornerstones of our tradition – they’re a part of our DNA. So too is a vigorous engagement with the wider world. Both debate and engagement are part of the tools we need in order to deal with the many social problems we face, not only as a community, but also as a country.
Would we really want it any other way?
From all of us at JCORE, wishing you, your families and your congregants a happy and healthy new year, and one with less racism and division in our society.
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