There are few things that I enjoy more than spending an evening curled up on the couch with a good DVD. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new action film, a good comedy or an old musical. But recently, a new genre of DVD entered my life, when a friend of mine got hold of a copy of the ceremony at Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, marking the 350th anniversary of the re-admission of Jews to Britain. You can’t find that in Blockbusters.
The ceremony brought together the leaders of Anglo Jewry and representatives of the British establishment, most notably, Prime Minister Tony Blair, for a service of thanksgiving. Bevis Marks was the obvious location for such an event. It’s England’s oldest and one its most beautiful Synagogues, it’s in central London, and its members are as English as they come. They talk posh, wear top hats and no doubt, drink tea at five and host garden parties.
Several children from the local Jewish Primary School, dressed impeccably in their maroon school uniform, hair brushed and teeth sparkling, went up on the stage to offer thanks to the people of England. Addressing the Prime Minister, the children thanked him and his predecessors for being so kind to the Jew, allowing him to come back after he had been expelled 365 years earlier and for tolerating him ever since. “Oh thank you Prime Minister, thank you so much for not massacring us, or forcing us to live in ghettos. Thank you for allowing us to open businesses and to vote in elections. It really is awfully kind of you.”
Yes. We Jews are so used to persecution and hatred that we sound almost surprised when we’re left alone.
Don’t get me wrong. We have a lot to be thankful for, but at the same time, it’s a reciprocal relationship. We shouldn’t try to hide the things that are most important to us, as if we’re a bit embarrassed by them. Like our deep love of Israel. Throughout the ceremony I was struck by the absence of at least a mention of Anglo-Jewry’s strong ties to the Jewish State and support for strong bilateral ties between both countries. The service concluded with laughter all around when the choir performed its rendition of God Save the Queen in Hebrew. I wondered whether they would sing the Hatikva in English, but given the atmosphere of the event, Mr Blair could have been mistaken into thinking that “Lihiyot Am Chofshi B’artzenu” (To be a free people in our country) was referring to England.
But even the best planned events occasionally have their blips. Only a keen ear would have noticed that when the choir sang Aleinu, they followed the Sephardi liturgy that includes a line about the gentiles, removed from the Ashkenazi siddur years ago – “For they bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a god which helps not.” Now that’s not cricket.