Friday, January 16, 2015

To be Jewish in the 21st Century

This article was on page three in The Daily Telegraph in London on January 15, 2015.

The London I visit is a far cry from the London I grew up in, during the 1960's and 1970's.
Yes, there was still a degree of xenophobia then but the country was still reveling in the end of World War II and Britain was rebuilding itself with a succession of Conservative and Labor governments.

As a very young girl, of 9, I was sent off to a boarding school, deep in the English countryside.
It was a Church of England school and the pupils all came from very English families.

My upbringing, by east European holocaust survivors, did not prepare me for the world in which I had been sequestered.  I knew I was different upon arrival.  It began with the matron going through our personal items.  One that was required was a "tuck box", something well known among the landed gentry.  It was a wooden box, approximately 3' x 2'  x 18" or so with a hasp for a padlock.

When it came to presenting mine, I produced what my mother gave me:  an empty, over-sized cardboard chocolate box.

Everyone laughed and I felt confused and deeply humiliated.

This was just the beginning for me.

I was totally unfamiliar with the foods they served, such as steak and kidney pie, Shepherd's pie, haggis, black pudding ... the list went on and on.  My diet at home revolved around soups and potatoes with every meal, sour dill pickles, rye bread, gefillte fish according to my family's Polish, Jewish traditions.  My duvet was a continental one, unlike the British ones which were more like the thin comforters sold in the US today.

Sunday mornings were spent in church where I learned the Lord's Prayer, many psalms, hymns, liturgy, etc.  I participated in all of it and rather liked the hymns which were more patriotic than religious ... lots of Benjamin Brittain, "There'll always be an England", "Onward Christian soldiers" and so forth.  I liked going to Church because it was always followed by a trip to the local bakery, Wakefields, whose aroma of freshly baked delicacies filled the small town of Horsham, Sussex.

I only had one friend there.  She was a 13 year old girl which for a 9 year old made her the epitome of maturity and wisdom.  What brought us together was that she was also Jewish.  Our heritage linked us and we were virtually inseparable.  Even though her parents spent the war in Britain, we shared traditions and that bonded us deeply.

I was desperately unhappy at Springfield Park and on the few occasions that my mother visited, I remember watching her from a top floor window walking down the long, winding road of the school's former manor house walk until she disappeared behind the trees.  
I cried and cried, begging her to bring me home.

By the end of the school year, it was recommended that I be removed as I did not "fit in".  During school holidays, classmates went off to their homes deep in the English countryside, to their horses and hunts.  I went to Switzerland, Israel and the US to visit my father.
This made the divide between me and the others even greater.
No one could understand going 'abroad" when there was the English coastal towns of Brighton or down south in Devon and Cornwall.  I could not explain it.  It was what we did.

In my own innocent way, this was my first personal experience of anti-semitism.

In the 1970's, the situation in the middle east blew up and with it came a huge influx of predominantly Lebanese refugees but Syrians and Jordanians followed suit.  Those that abandoned their motherlands in search of freedom and security came with huge amounts of money.  These were not the people seen in the growing refugee camps.

Money was no object and thus began the rapid rise in real estate prices.  At the time, I worked on Saturday's at the then exclusive Harrod's department store.  What was once the go-to destination of the British landed gentry, warranted by assorted members of the royal family, etc., was quickly being overrun with the harems of hijab cloaked women, children having their nappies (diapers) changed on the floors of the shoe aisles between the Queen's official shoemaker, Rayne and Ferragamo.
All "decorum" had gone to hell because, despite these displays of unacceptable behaviour came lots and lots of cold cash.  Huge sums would be dropped in each department and what was once an elegant department store, with discreet assistants and softly spoken landowners buying their Barbour hunting jackets was quickly devolving into a shouk.

One lady who worked at the Chanel counter told me that a sheik had come in with several of his wives.  He pointed to the huge, display bottle of Chanel no. 5 which dominated the display.  He wanted that.  The sales woman explained that if he wanted that much cologne, he would be better off buying a substantial quantity of smaller bottles as the large one would evaporate at best, at worst, lose its scent.

"I don't care.  I want that big one there.  It is going in the bath anyway".

Such was the spending that went on, unheard of by citizens.  A dear friend who was a doctor told of us several occasions that he had treated members of the Saudi Arabian embassy, who vehemently complained about their bills.  He would break it all down according to x-ray, blood work etc.  It was not the size of the bill that bothered them.  They did not feel they were paying enough and thus felt that they might not be getting the proper treatment.

Examples of this over spending of petro-money caused real estate to sky rocket making home ownership harder and harder for the British themselves.  I found that I did not stand a chance in this type of economy, based on what I was earning and knew I had to make a change.

I returned to the States in August 1980.  Oil became the standard by which countries wealth and status were judged.  As tensions grew in the middle east, London became more and more popular due to its great location and easy access to Europe, the Middle & Far East as well as the United States.

Small, corner shops that used to be the domain of immigrant Indians and Pakistanis (members of the Commonwealth) were slowly being taken over by Arabic speaking nationals.  Many came seeking political asylum, for which England is a huge sucker.  Many just loved the freedoms afforded here while still actively practising their religion freely.

Over time, let's jump thirty years, the United Kingdom is now overrun with Muslims.  I stood at a bus stop last year and I was the only western woman amongst 12 others waiting for a bus.  They were all dressed head to toe in traditional black garments, their eyes staring out from the slits in their hijabs.

With this huge influx, came many wonderful, peace seeking Moslems.  It also opened the flood gates for many radicals who took full advantage of their refugee status, espousing hatred and spewing vitriol from the safety and sanctity of their numerous mosques.  The imams do not limit their hatred to just the Jews and the destruction of the state of Israel.  They hate the very country that has given them security and a safe haven not to mention all the benefits that come with asylum status.

65 years after the end of the World War II, anti-semitism is on the rise again.  Not just in England but in many countries across the world.

When I used to proudly wear a Star of David, I now hide it, something which shames me personally.

I am a Jew.  I feel it deep within my soul.  It's embedded in my DNA.  Although I am a very liberal one, I remain Jewish to my core.

It is tragic to see what the legacy of Abraham's sons, Isaac and Ishmael has done to this world.  Both Jews and Muslims share the same father of a monotheistic religion.  Abraham.  Both are fighting for right to worship their branch of the family.

As the child of three holocaust survivors, I fear for our future while I still hold hope and pray that peace will come to pass.

For the Jews, for the Muslims.

For the planet human.

My family in Krakow, Poland prior to the outbreak of war. 
My  grandmother and mother survived.
Mother's father and young brother were exterminated in the local concentration camp.

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