Thursday, 10 May 2007

Three Cheers for Cromwell!

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.


ifyouwillit... said...

If it's one thing thing you have proved yourself to be good at, it is the art of couch-potatoing... you really will watch anything!!

There aren't many people I know that can trace their families to the days when Jew's were allowed to return. I like the fact I can. We know where we came from, and where we lived. I also know where I belong. My own family left Spain for the UK, but luckily, something seeped through all those generations, and I am now where I belong, in Israel.

Diaspora Jewry is too comfortable. Be they enjoying their lives in the US, UK, Europe or Australia, the fact remains that they are not supposed to remain there. In the 1930's, German Jews were way to comfortable in their enlightened way of life and we all know how that ended.

When asked why I made aliya, I have a simple answer. G-d told me to. The sooner diaspora Jewry realizes their error, the better.

Great post, and thanks for directing me towards it!

Zvi Halpern said...

you know, it gets tiresome when people make aliya and then say that the Jews in Germany were too comfortable and enlightened and look what happened to them. What's the claim - that Jews have no right to be comfortable? Or enlightened?

pat said...

The Bevis Marks service was a set-piece occasion, shown on national TV (but very late) and would have been designed to be non-political. One could argue that references which were any way capable of being contentious or political, would have been avoided (notwithstanding the non-pc phrase in Aleinu!)The Chief Rabbi is not afraid of beating the Zionist drum, which he does regularly in the media and on public occasions

ifyouwillit... said...

Zvi, it gets tiresome when Jew's forget about the homeland, and you got it in one, you're not supposed to get too comfortable when you're not in Israel. 2000 years of wondering has to teach us something.

rachel said...

There's a brilliant scene in the film 'The Believer' where the main character, Danny, trying to raise money and support for a new Neo Nazi party tries a change in tact. He insists that Jews thrive on persecution and anti-semitism, and that the only way to destroy the Jew, is to love him, truly, fully and welcome him with open arms into society. He believes that real desire for assimilation of the Jew by the Gentile will be the only way to wipe him out for good.
Reading the account of celebrations of returning to the Jews under Cromwell made me wonder. Are we so used to being persecuted and open/desensitised to antisemitism that we thank people for not following that norm? Or was Cromwell following Danny's advice, and through his kindness and open door to religious freedom, actually trying a new trick to wipe us out...?
Positive thoughts, hey?! Watch the film - it's a must!