Dec 2011 Journal
Letters to the Editor
A PROVOCATION TOO FAR?
Sir - Peter Phillips (AJR Journal, November) may fancy himself as some sort of iconoclast but he hasn’t really understood the difference between being truly provocative - which he isn’t - and being annoying - which he is. There is so much in his recent offering which is screaming for a response – e.g. his childish observations about kashrut and shechita - that I’m spoiled for choice. However, let me concentrate on his ‘pet hate’ of faith schools.
When Mr Phillips makes his wild, unsupported generalisations, I’m not sure which particular faith schools he has in mind. Certainly not the one in which I have spent the past 25 years of my professional life. In my (Jewish) school, we educate our young people to be aware of their dual roles as Jews and citizens of the UK. Our students visit Holocaust sites, Israel, Gateshead Yeshivah and Gateshead Seminary but they also march with AJEX at the Remembrance Parade. They raise funds for a Jewish children’s home in Ukraine but they also raise funds for a local hospice and for the victims of genocide the world over. Our graduates lead the Jewish societies of the universities to which they go but they also sit on local councils and in Parliament. Our sports teams - yes, Mr Phillips, sport in a Jewish school! - compete in the Maccabiah Games but they also compete against all other schools and organisations. And our young people lead and host sessions of Holocaust and Jewish education for students from other schools of all faiths and none. Maybe Mr Phillips has experience of other, presumably Jewish, faith schools, which do not function as we do and it is this experience which has caused this outburst. Or, then again, maybe not.
I should, of course, say that much of the above will be true of other Jewish schools too. However, I can’t comment because I have direct experience of only one. But what I can say is that our young people emerge from their school as rounded individuals. Their Jewishness sits comfortably on them - it’s part of what and who they are. They don’t, Mr Phillips, need to announce the fact that they’re ‘Jewish and proud of it’. It’s obvious. It’s not a problem for them.
As I write this, I realise that Mr Phillips has won. He’s wound me up and got a reaction. But then, when something irritates you, you have to swat it, don’t you? Anyway, you never know, maybe the next time Mr Phillips feels inclined to publish his assorted thoughts, he’ll do his homework first.
PS: By the way, Mr P, on this business of Jewish students doing ‘well wherever they went’, tempting though it may sound, you really shouldn’t fall for or peddle this fiction. Young people, whichever school they attend, do well for a host of reasons including, for example, good teaching, careful and caring support, their own commitment, teacher expectations, parental support, school ethos and many, many more. Jewish kids don’t succeed because of some kind of genetic osmosis, you know!
Sir - At the end of his article in your November issue, Peter Philips writes ‘I am not provocative for the sake of being provocative. I am Jewish and proud of it. I just think that some things need to be said.’
Writing about his objection to ‘so-called’ faith schools and Jewish golf clubs, he says ‘We need to mix. We need to integrate.’ Might I point out that the very integrated German Jews unfortunately met the same terrible fate in the death camps as my unintegrated, Polish-Orthodox -Jewish father, who arrived in Berlin just after the First World War and was an honest citizen, keeping all the laws and paying his taxes. Integration alone did not help them!
In saying that the laws of kashrut and shechita are outdated and that the latter ‘probably causes anti-Semitism’, has Mr Phillips overlooked the fact that had it not been for these laws, as well as circumcision, there would have been total integration and therefore no Jews left for the anti-Semites to persecute over the centuries?
My husband, on being called up to serve in the Royal Air Force, informed his commanding officer that he would do anything required of him during his service period except take his meals with his fellow air force comrades. He still has in his possession a certificate allowing him to have food in his barrack, which is contrary to Air Force regulations. This did not cause any anti-Semitism. Nor did he ever hide the fact that he was Jewish and a proud supporter of the nascent State of Israel, where he volunteered to serve after being demobbed from the Air Force.
It is not by integration that we will continue to survive.
Sir - With typical self-importance, Peter Phillips tells us what he believes, like some missionary expounding a new doctrine. Who cares what he believes? Whilst many, including me, agree with some of his stated opinions, what right has he to denigrate in public the sincerely held beliefs regarding kashrut, Orthodoxy and education of many of our people? His thoughts on secularism and liberalism among the Jewish community are nothing new. Most members of the AJR are survivors of the Holocaust and we don’t need Mr Phillips to pontificate on the importance of Israel to all the Jewish people, or on how and why the Israelis should conduct themselves or run their country.
Sir – Peter Phillips’s article, though intended to provoke, did not entirely succeed. We have crossed swords before, but this time I almost agree with him! Is he perhaps inching to the right?
However, I don’t agree with the way he slams the religion. Try and separate an assimilated Diaspora Jew from his traditions and his descendants could be lost to Judaism within a matter of two generations or so! And that’s where Israel comes in - it cannot happen there. I am far from being what he calls a ‘frummer’, but I recognise that this is the cement that bound us together throughout our troubled history and helped us to survive as a people. Mr Phillips is also in the habit of pointing out that kibbutzniks were secular, but he forgets they were also staunch Zionists, whether on the right or far left. It was due to their attachment to their historic roots that the Zionist enterprise was successful - in a way that Uganda, Kenya or Stalin’s Birobidjan experiment could not have been.
I have to be brief as I’m off to the place where I most feel at home. Mr Phillips likes to inform us that he has avoided it ever since the heady days of Ben-Gurion and even Golda Meir, though she was far less doctrinaire. My long-suffering wife and I plan to go north this time to observe the migrating birds on their way from Europe to Africa. Even these feathered creatures have the intuition and the sagacity to stop over in Netanyahu’s Israel - which he so rebuffs.
Sir – I would like to express my greatest admiration to Peter Phillips on his article. He expressed eloquently the views and feelings of all ‘alien’ British Jews, who were born outside the United Kingdom and survived the Holocaust.
Sir – Just a line to say that I agree with every word Peter Phillips wrote in the latest edition of the Journal. Please do tell him we’re not all against him!
Sir - Concerning Peter Phillips’s article ‘To provoke or not to provoke’: he’s certainly provoked me to write to the AJR Journal for the first time. At last the voice of reason and wisdom! Although I am sure many members won’t agree with him, I hope many will give some thought to what he says. What Peter Phillips says is thoughtful, sane and a breath of fresh air. More please!
Sir – The correspondence pages of your journal are undoubtedly interesting and informative but – and here I must admit to being broadly in sympathy with Peter Phillips’s ‘provocative’ views (I don’t think they are really, Peter!) – the majority of your contributors write looking back. ‘All my future is behind me’ seems to be the motto. This may well be true for us first-generation old-timers, but in general it is such a miserable attitude, isn’t it? Most of us who have survived the Holocaust have made good lives for ourselves and our offspring. This was not achieved by bemoaning the past, but by conquering the future. Do not let us provide dismal examples to our ‘children’ and their children!
EXHIBITION ON JEWISH REFUGEES IN SOUTH WALES
Sir - I am writing to thank you and all your readers.
In July this year, I contacted the Association of Jewish Refugees requesting your help with our exhibition on the history of Jewish refugees in South Wales, 1933-45.
You were then kind enough to publish my letter in the AJR Journal. Since then, the response to our exhibition has been incredible. We have now received enough images to fill all the exhibition panels with some to spare!
I would like to express our gratitude to the AJR for their support, and to all those people who have been kind enough to share their family photographs and memories with us.
The exhibition will run from 9 January to 6 February 2012 at the Civic Centre, Swansea, and then from 21 April to 30 June 2012 at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea. Other venues have yet to be arranged.
Once again, many thanks for all your kind help and assistance.
Dr David Morris, Archivist, West Glamorgan Archive Service, County Hall, Swansea
U & €
Sir - We owe our civilisation and culture to the Greeks, repaying our debt – with interest. Democracy, Economy and Europe failed catastrophically. The Greek tragedy is spreading throughout the continent unstoppably. The € is threatening to disappear with a mega reduction of our pensions, causing a financial catastrophe. They would be paid in Deutschmarks and Schillings! We can thank the parasitic, inept and self – seeking politicians, economists and bankers for the chaos that will ensue. Further increasing taxes, their usual excuse will be ‘with the benefit of hindsight’.
Life began in paradise - it may end in Hades.
Sir – I am editing some family letters for possible publication. In a letter dated 13 June 1939, my great-aunt writes to her son in London: ‘Hast Du Dr. Nathan zufällig gesprochen, er hat einen Kindertransport nach drüben gebracht’ (Have you by chance spoken to Dr Nathan – he took a Kindertransport over there). Dr Nathan returned to Hamburg and met the fate of so many.
From 1912 Dr Nathan Max Nathan (Emmerich, Germany 1879-Auschwitz 24 or 25 October 1944), who was also a rabbi, was secretary (Syndicus) of the Hamburg Jewish Community.
I wonder whether any of your readers was on this transport and might be willing to share some memories.
GAINING UNDERSTANDING AND HOPE
Sir – Whatever your views on the moral aspects of the unending conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, I would urge all readers of the Journal (themselves often victims of past racial discord) to read an inspiring book entitled I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity (Bloomsbury Publishing, £19.99, ISBN 9781 4088 13676, or from public libraries).
It is written with extraordinary humanity by Izzeldin Abuelaish, Gaza-born and a former Gaza resident who studied medicine, became a gynaecologist and specialised in the treatment of infertility. Almost uniquely, he worked in Israeli hospitals, mainly treating Jewish patients.
During the 2009 Israeli incursion into Gaza, a tank trained its gun on his home, where he and his family were sheltering, killing three of his daughters and injuring others.
Yet Abuelaish, who had recently been widowed, has found the strength not to hate but to plead for mutual understanding, respect and – above all – communication between the two Semitic communities, who share so many moral values. Instead of repeated military action and reactions, surely such sentiments must provide a better – or indeed the only – chance of peaceful coexistence.
Readers of this book may not change their long-held views, but they will gain understanding – and hope.