In the capital of England it is hard not to smell old Europe

JFS is one of the finest high schools in the kingdom. It lies in northern London and was founded in 1732. At its peak, it was the largest Jewish high school in Europe

By MORDECHAI CHAIMOVITCH/MAARIV
March 25, 2019 06:24
Anti-semitism

Graffiti that was found in Cheshire (northwest England) on the edge of a golf course that is known to have many Jewish members, in August 2016. (photo credit: COURTESY CST)

 
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Every year on the 7th of Adar she lights a candle. She tells her pupils in London about her students from Beit Shemesh who were slaughtered by a Jordanian soldier at the “Island of Peace.” She tells of Keren and Nirit, Sivan and Yael, Natalie and Adi. A special bond was woven with the parents of Shiri, Margalit and Shlomo Bedayev. I tell her that I met with her father two months ago. Rachel, who did not go out with the girls for the trip because she was about to give birth, asks how they are. "Do they still live in the same apartment?"

They moved to a larger house, planted trees, and had grandchildren.

"I am delighted to hear they have grandchildren. Shiri was the first to be killed on the trip."
 

He did not want her to go on the trip.

"I remember they were saving money so she could go on the trip."
 

Did that massacre leave marks on you?

"I keep saying that if I managed to deal with that, I will be able to handle anything."
 

Good evening, Shlomo Bedayev, Rachel Fink, Shiri's teacher sent you her regards.

"Rachel, Rachel, what about her? What does she do?"

She manages the largest Jewish high school in England, with 2,000 students.

"Oh, oh..."

Every year she lights a candle in memory of the girls.

"Before you called me I was in a good mood. Now I'm in an even better mood. "

 

This story makes words redundant about the unity of fate and closing circles. With the rise in numbers of antisemitic attacks, with an increase in the proportion of Jews wanting to leave Britain. It was three days of rain and depression. I met the "sirens," who were careful not to say that the town was burning, but emphasized that the dangers were within reach. On the other hand, there were the "non-concerned," those who kept denying; those who were adamant that there might be something, but there was always something. And among these were the "We’ll see," those who believe that right now everything is fine, but if Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, goes into Downing 10, there will be a problem. 

The meeting with Rachel Fink, director of the JFS High School, took place right before seven Parliament members of the Labour resigned because of the party's antisemitic spirit. She is 50 years old, a graduate of the high school she manages, with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a master's degree in Jewish education, and a picture of a woman who lights Shabbat candles in her office.

"In my opinion, today it is easier to shout and write antisemitic things because of what happened in politics," she says. The discourse Corbyn promotes opens an umbrella over hateful heads, but she, wearing a handkerchief on her head, moves confidently through the streets. Same goes for her Kippah wearing husband and children. In all her years nothing has happened to her: "Are we more cautious today? Do we warn our children more than before? Yes, as much as possible. Do I want to sow fear? No, I do not think that would help.”

From conversations with students there is no fear but rather uncertainty, "but it does not make me dislike my life here." One said that only once it was "unpleasant." Her brother wore an IDF shirt, and someone called out to him: "Go back to Israel." Another said that he was influenced by his mother's fears, but also by his father's calmness, and added that the real battle against antisemitism was taking place in the universities. Is he willing to deal with the situation? "In this school we are taught that things in life are not easy," a student replied.

JFS is one of the finest high schools in the kingdom. It lies in northern London and was founded in 1732. At its peak, it was the largest Jewish high school in Europe. When Fink studied here, students were approved according to Halacha rulings - that is, those whose mother is Jewish. But about 10 years ago, the status of a son of a Jewish father and a mother who converted to Judaism that sought to be accepted was discussed. The decision of the Supreme Court in London decided on the question of "who is a Jew," at least in Britain, stating that it is not the decadency but the question of whether the person lives a religious way of life, decides the future of the candidate. "In theory, you can be a non-Jew, but you can show permits from the synagogue and receive priority in admission," explains Rachel.

"So why are we overwhelmed despite these limitations? Because we are a tremendous school."

There are Israelis among her students. Among the JFS graduates there are those who serve in the IDF as lone soldiers, and she spent ten years in Israel while her husband was kept going to London. Seventeen years ago they returned, "because we put our family before Zionism." But the connection with Israel is important to her. She happily continues the 40-year tradition of sending students to Israel. Hebrew is a constitutive element in her educational outlook. "If you know talented Hebrew teachers - I want to talk to them."

I walk out through the bright parquet corridors. I am greeted by the Great Synagogue, the huge dining room, the well-equipped gymnasiums. I peek at a solo lesson on the piano and also answer to an apologetic lady who asks for my doings there. "Strangers are not supposed to go around here alone."

 

At 9 AM, the air is as cold as the iron fence around the “Rimon” School, and after waiting on the sidewalk, the security guard gets permission to let us in. A buzzing button, a gate opens, the guard checks the arrivals one at a time. We walk through the asphalt walkway all the way to the main building. Another door, another buzz, you sign up and receive the tag ‘visitor.’ "Rimon" is a six-year elementary school that defines itself as a "modern Orthodox" and is located in Golders Green. Included in the program to strengthen studies on Israel initiated by the JNF-UK (UK) in 18 Jewish schools with £ 1.2 million. In this framework, the Orna Porat Theater was presented, and this morning it is at “Rimon.”

With boys wearing red kippahs and girls in green skirts, the children march into the hall. The sun is now shedding its rays from the kingdom, and the little ones are pale as princes of the Tudors. "My hand is up," exclaims Ora, the head of the Jewish and Hebrew studies program, and silence ensues. “Boker tov,” she says in Hebrew, and the children respond in Hebrew as well. We will be watching "Mr. Simon's shoes." This is Shai, that is Mika. She happens to be on her first visit to Israel, and Mika really misses America. "What, it is not like A-meri-ca here?" Shai says in an exaggerated American accent. Mika gets offended. "I said something that offended her?" asks Shai. "Yes," replies a girl from the audience. But the relationship thaws as a week old snow that fell upon London. Mika is beginning to feel like the plays she did back home. She understands she has received a gift. She got Shai.

Her first friend in Israel. The play is in Hebrew, and the children do not miss the comical punchlines. The heroes imported by Orna Porat are inspiring. The children connect with the heroes of Zionism who they learned about in class. "I think a lot about this Hungarian who was probably Theodor Herzl and Balfour, whose full name I do not know," says 10-year-old Charlie Esteban. "And I think of Golda Meir, who was Israel's first female prime minister," says Daria Segal, "I want to be like her."

Do you feel different here?

"Yes, not many people here are Jews like in Kfar Saba. All my neighbors are Christians. "

"Everything is different here," says David Turgeman of fifth grade at the “Nancy Rubin” School. "It's not like in Israel, which lets you walk the road alone when you are in second grade. You are only allowed to do so since sixth grade here."
 

Why do people not walk alone here?

"Because not everyone are Jews here. There are also non-Jews. "

Tzur relates that in his settlement in Har Bracha even kindergarten children can walk alone, "because there were no Arabs at all, only religious Jews." 

Anthony Wolfson runs “Nancy Rubin” and is confident that the children at the Jewish schools are well protected, arriving in their parents' cars, only a few need the bus, fewer are on foot, and even those accompanied by others. And what happens once they say goodbye to their parents? How aware are the children to the situation? “Antisemitism always exists, and I do not wish to expose the children to it."

Sari Rubin Mcwhir represents the JNF at school and increases the studies on Israel, "a job that came to me from the heavens." She is North Tel Aviv native who came here following her husband Gary. The correct fight on antisemitism has to, in her opinion, be indirect, not too blunt. She equips her students with data that will help them stand up to critics of Israel, against those who speak out against it, "So they can tell the BDS people: Do not use your computers because they have an Intel chip inside.”

Will that be enough?

"If someone speaks of antisemitism, attacks Israel, they will slam the facts in his face. Each of our children is an ambassador of Israel."

Ora Soler of “Rimon” also has the Jewish consciousness, the Israeliness. In order to fulfill the government's demand to teach a modern foreign language, she hired a teacher of Modern Hebrew. The holidays are celebrated from an Israeli perspective; they celebrate TuBishvat, Purim and Shavuot, just like they do in Israel. She was born in Los Angeles to parents from Morocco, married a South African-born Ashkenazi who holds British citizenship and lives in London.

And if your head is spinning from the crisscross written above, watch what happens next.

Christine Samuel is a Maori from New Zealand, who came to England 30 years ago, she married a Jew and functions as a mother-in-law to his grandchildren. We meet when Christine picks up the two big boys from school. The little one - Ziva, one-year-old – she cradles in a cart. She met her Rafael at the Victoria train station and was swept away in to an odd turn in her life. She quickly became involved in Jewish culture. She did not neglect the laws of kashrut. But when she asked to open a bakery, the rabbis took gave her hell because she was not Jewish. Eventually, they had to give her a license, "because I am very meticulous." She raises the children of her husband's daughter from his previous marriage because "the parents cannot do it at the moment." Beyond that, she would not elaborate.

The rise in antisemitism worries the New Zealander. "I have to look after the grandchildren and my back."

And your husband?

"He watches over his back, especially in his business, which is in an area close to Arab housing."

A sense of danger?

"It's something that is in the air, I do not know how to define it, but it's there, it is present."

Do not you miss the peace of New Zealand?

"I miss the weather, it makes people nicer."

The next three women I speak with are Israelis who came in the wake of their husbands' work. Anat Glick came five years ago from Jerusalem and misses Beit Hakerem. Her son Yonatan studies at “Rimon,” hears about the holidays and learns virtues. On the wall next to us are the names of the school committees in English letters. One is named Vaad Tzedek. At home, Anat was left with a strict command of Hebrew: "When they start speaking English, I immediately say 'Hebrew, Hebrew.'"

When we talk about antisemitism, Anat tries to belittle it. She feels nothing, she feels secure. But sometimes her stomach does adhere to her: "On Friday morning, when I see the long line at the bakery at Golders Green, I say to myself, 'Oh my God, don’t let anything happen.'"

With seven-months-old Oliver-Abraham in her arms, Dana Yaakov announced that here is just like in Israel. In Kfar Saba, you barely felt the situation in the south, just like in Golders Green you barely fell the antisemitism. "Even the Muslims in the shops are very nice."

But Hava Turgeman of Jerusalem feels that something is happening: "On the train I see how people look at my son. I tell him: 'walk with pride', but when I see the looks ... the kippah and the fringes are strange to them. Sometimes my husband says to him: 'Put the fringes away.'"

Dorli and Yoav Kurtzbard do not allow their sons to wear a kippah outside. Is it the commandment of the Enlightenment: "Be a man in your outing and a Jew in your tent," which was formulated by YLG (Yehuda Leib Gordon) in "Education?" or perhaps it is simply a legacy of youth that Yoav gives to his sons? When Yoav lived in the US with his parents, they told him to do the same.

Dorli and Yoav are an Israeli story that succeeded in the United Kingdom, but they see their future in Israel. She served under former Chief of Staff Ehud Barak. His parents survived the Holocaust, he served in the artillery unit and had  a lot of Lebanon action. After completing his studies he worked for a bank in Manhattan, moved to London and established an investment company with Lord Young, a member of the Thatcher government. They have lived in London for 20 years now. They live in an impressive castle, members of an Orthodox shtibel, and their four children attended Jewish schools. The eldest, Roi, was accepted in to medical engineering studies at the prestigious King's College. He tells of a big Palestinian event at the college “with declarations, flags and signs.”

How did you react?

"I ignored it."

How has the situation here been outside the universities lately?

Dorli: Still fine.

Still...

Yoav: "I have been here for a long time and have never experienced antisemitism. When you flaunt too many statements by Corbyn, they will fulfill themselves. I do not think he defines himself as an antisemite. "

Is it only against Corbyn?

"There are Jews here who think that Israel is an apartheid state and they support the Labour's views."


On the morning after the elections (June 8, 2017) in which Labour was strengthened, Samuel Hayek went to buy a cellphone. "To whom did you vote?" The saleswoman asked him in an accent similar to Emma Thompson’s. “For Corbyn,” he replied with a laugh. "I want this country to be destroyed and who will do it better than him?" "Inshallah," the saleswoman replied.

"She is third generation of Londoners, she has supposedly absorbed liberal values, the best of Western humanism, and still wants the state to be destroyed," Hayek says. "The British establishment does not understand what I'm telling you."

Samuel Hayek is the authoritative chairman of JNF-UK, a well-to-do real estate man, a collector of about 500 original paintings from Israeli brushes only. Kadishman, Beck, Reuven, Gutman, Ardon, Bezem and Simon. In particular, his heart goes to works inspired by the Holocaust. "The clock" by Bergner, for example, the interview with Hayek is being conducted in the shadow of some of his pictures, his remarks about the situation will be sharp and firm. His remarks about Benjamin Netanyahu flow through the channels of understatement. It's clear to me that they are close friends, but Hayek talks about friendship. Although they are long-standing, they do not see each other every time he goes visits Israel. The last time they met was in London, when Netanyahu visited in 2017 on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. And besides, he is close to Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Liberman, whom he describes as "one of the greatest leaders in Israel."

Salim Hayek, Samuel’s father, was a big man in Baghdad. He held impressive English and represented world-class agencies such as Zinger (sewing machines) and Hercules (bicycles). His mother, Nasira, dipped every morning in rose water brought by the maids. In three-piece suits his brothers would go out to their daily labor. But once, the next day, such an agile morning, they found themselves in a tent in the Ramatayim transit camp. With the wealth awaiting for them in the US or England, they could have left, but Salim, “Zionist in his heart,” insisted on staying. The year was 1951.

Samuel Hayek was born 65 years ago in Kfar Saba. He served in the 7th Brigade of the Armored Corps and in 8200 of the Intelligence Corps. When he was discharged he wanted to study law, but there were too few places in the country, and London was a logical substitute. The law in Israel, as we know, is based on English law.

Since then - 40 years have passed - he is here, but lives the country intensively. When he is here (in London), he looks for excuses to go there (Jerusalem). When he's there, he looks for excuses not to come back here. During the Gulf War he sat alone on the El Al plane to Ben-Gurion Airport, until the captain's voice was heard: "Samuel, come to the cockpit."

His Israeli involvement with his long presence in London allows him to feel inside but to be outside.

"This is a community that feels very much threatened, similarly to how the European Jews felt like on the eve of World War II," says Hayek. "Even if Corbyn is not elected, antisemitism in Britain will not be stopped, because the British public keeps on changing. The continuous efforts to reduce antisemitism is a great waste of resources. The Jews at this time need a leadership that will tell them the truth. That will prepare them for the deterioration in the status of Jews in Britain. The British government should take this into account: if you do not defend the Jews, all sorts of organizations might be established," he said.

A man who does not want wish to state his name came to me in Trafalgar Square. He presents a CST (Community Security Trust) paper. "If you want to learn how to protect yourself and contribute to the preservation of the community, join us." The CST tries to be there in cooperation with the police and sometimes in its place. The Jewish security guards are all volunteers, trained to identify dangers, to secure synagogues, schools, campuses, hotels that host communal dinners: "You stand there for one to five hours and make sure someone with a knife does not slip in." How do you deal with dangers? "Sometimes you have to do physical intervention," he replies without any desire to elaborate.

As a man on the field, what is the situation of the threat these days?

"It goes up and down. Depending on what happens in other parts of the world, mainly in the Middle East. "

What is the source of the threat? Where does it come from?

"From the Right all the way to the Arabs."

Everything is terrorism?

"Everyone is by people full of hatred."

"Why should the Jewish organizations not be armed?" Gideon Falter, chairman of the campaign against antisemitism, replies: "The police, whose members are not armed, are supposed to give us security."

Polter, 35, grew up in a Jewish culture drenched home. His parents produced reproductions of Hebrew manuscripts. "The golden age of British Jewry," he calls the years of his youth. In 2009 (Operation Cast Lead) and in 2014 (Operation Protective Edge) he saw how life is changing. When IDF operations were used as an excuse, people drew ancient hatreds from the depths of their souls. Polter, one of the first to expose the Corbyn’s maggot case, believes that the Israeli government could have done more to help the struggle. Especially in the social media. The appropriate technology exists. Movies about greedy Jews can be eliminated as child pornography is eliminated. "The antisemite must understand that his actions bear disastrous consequences: he will face criminal allegations, he will be thrown out of his union, and his name will be published in the media."

Is it the fear that controls the Jews?

"Not the fear, but the understanding that if we do not fight now, we will lose the battle for the future of British Jewry."

Sharon Klaff joined the campaign following the movie the pianist: "After the film I went out, fell on the sidewalk and started yelling like an Arab lady at a funeral, and I shouted not because of what happened but because I understood that it was happening again and I thought to myself, 'How can I protect my children?' and everyone looks at this mad lady who is snoring from the depths of her soul and I came home and said I had to go out and see what was happening." Her campaign is called “Campaign 4 Truth.” The members of the campaign try to oppose any anti-Israeli protest, they attempt to stop every hate spewing protests. "Our ideology is very simple: anti-Zionism = antisemitism = anti-Judaism."

She is 70 years old and was born in Pretoria during Israel's War of Independence. She was named Sharon because the IDF just took over the Sharon region. Her father, Ben Zion Olsfanger, was a burning Revisionist and Jabotinsky's driver when he visited South Africa.

Jabotinsky, wrote Olsfangger in his memoirs, took care of all the rules of the Hadar. When his spirit was really good on him, he would burst into song while traveling. Because of their political affiliation, Sharon's family was labeled as fascists, "but I was very proud of it."

She had come to England with her husband David for a work holiday. As soon as she landed at Southampton Harbor, she tasted the freedom and understood that she would never return to the land of apartheid. But in the 1980s, the "quiet antisemitism," as she put it, grew stronger. Comments on her husband's golf course, the words of friends at work, strange looks on the "Tube" (the subway). Sharon began writing letters. In response, she was replied with a letter saying that “The Jews are the new Nazis." The sender called himself "an old soldier in the Mandate Force in Palestine."

Her daughter holds an almost Israeli resume of terror attacks. She was miraculously saved from the 1994 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London, a friend of hers was killed in a terrorist attack on the London Bridge, and her friend died in a terrorist explosion on the subway.

"We told the prime minister about Hamas," she recalls, and then appeared with leaflets at the Palestine Expo and protested the sale of the Hippodrome concert hall in the heart of Golders Green to a Shi'ite organization. Three months ago she tried to record an event by Corbyn supporters but prevented her from entering. When she tried to demonstrate with her friend, the phone was torn from her hands and two women attacked her. "They pulled me by the hair, dragged me, grabbed my head and repeatedly hit it on the sidewalk and kicked me with their boots." The police opened a file, closed a file, reopened and in the meantime, the interrogation continues.

What did this incident do to you?

"You're more careful. She no longer goes easily to demonstrations. "

Is there a future for the Jews?

"There is a bigger issue: the connection between the Islamists and the left threatens our world. Netanyahu understands that, Trump understands that, and Putin understands that. "

Where is your urge?

"From my childhood. From the moment I became aware of what happened in the Holocaust. "

The stubborn rain last night brings Golders Green back to the shtetl. Good Jews rushed to their good homes, whose walls glistened with mold. "A rainbow," laughed one man, a man wrapped in his shoulders, hiding from drops and glances, eluded the Mental Health Center. During the three days in London, I did not seek to make fatal connections but to be an Indian head, the one who sticks his ear to the iron tracks. It was not the wheels of a train that I heard but the whispering voice: "Europe, Europe again."

Alon Einhorn translated this story.

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