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Oct 2001 Journal

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The Last Decade

Cast your minds back to 1987. Mrs Thatcher seemed the lessee of 10 Downing Street in perpetuity, and the Iron Curtain was bisecting Europe. Meanwhile, in my interview for the editorship of AJR Information, I was asked if I could commit myself to the job for ten years. (After fourteen years I still wear the green eyeshade, while AJR members have demonstrated their commitment by instantly snapping up all the tickets for the 60th anniversary event at the Grosvenor House Hotel).

1989 ushered in momentous change in Eastern Europe. The collapse of the Berlin Wall brought to power post-Soviet governments which at least paid lip service to their obligation to Jewish ex-citizens; this development attracted new readers who hailed from the ex-DDR and elsewhere. At the same time, AJR Information changed its type face and layout for the first time in 45 years.

Throughout the 1990s the Association diversified its activities at the Paul Balint AJR Day Centre. In addition to the ‘Drop in’ Advice Centre and the ever-varied entertainment programme, it launched chiropody, optical, dentistry and physiotherapy services. In mid-decade, the Day Centre served an average of 24,000 kosher meals annually (some via meals-on-wheels). 1997 saw the inception of the AJR Luncheon Club. Around the same time an important - and, regrettably, somewhat belated - development occurred: the founding of local AJR groups. Starting in South London, the ‘movement’ spread via Pinner to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Cambridge, Surrey, Brighton and Bournemouth. As we go to press new groups are in the process of formation in North London, Liverpool and Edinburgh.

All this activity has to be set against the backdrop of harsh demographic facts. A mid-decade survey showed that four fifths of our members were over 70 years of age, with roughly half of those actually octogenarian! This inevitably resulted in a steady (but gratifyingly slow) decline in membership. However, the millennium year brought a reversal of the downward trend, when the affiliation of 550 KT (Kindertransport) members boosted AJR enrolment to around three thousand and eight hundred – quite apart from lowering the average age. Over the last few years we have also chalked up other notable achievements, such as the setting up (jointly with other interested organisations) of the expert-staffed Central Office for Holocaust Claims. Since January 2001 our monthly publication has appeared in a revamped colourful design under the title of AJR Journal. And last, but by no means least, in May 2002 the Jewish Museum, Camden Town, will host the exhibition Continental Britons, which - mounted by the AJR - should be a landmark celebrating our diamond jubilee.

At this point in time, when Israel is the target of much ill-informed – and occasionally plain ill-intentioned – criticism, we continental Britons might easily fall prone to feeling demoralised and vulnerable. To combat such moods we need a sense of belonging, and the conviction of Israel’s intrinsic right to exist. Our Association, conceived 60 years ago to generate a sense of community among the uprooted, can still satisfy that need.

In addition to fostering a general consciousness of indivisible Jewish identity, this journal sees its function as making readers feel proud, rather than apologetic, about their origins. Decades after the uniquely beneficial original influx of German-Jewish refugees into this country, new generations still draw from that gene pool. Sir John Krebs, the head of the Food Standards Agency is the son of Sir Hans Krebs - Nobel Prize winning biochemist – while Matthew Kneale, recipient of last year’s Whitbread prize for the novel English Passengers, is the grandson of Alfred Kerr, theatre critic of the Berliner Tageblatt. Remember, reader, you read it here first.
Richard Grunberger

next article:Charlatan Farrakhan