Trafalgar Square hosts Jewish celebration but snubs mayor

Shofar blowing, food and music showcase Jews' contributions.

September 18, 2006 03:21
3 minute read.
Trafalgar Square hosts Jewish celebration but snubs mayor

trafalgar square 298.88. (photo credit: Jonny Paul)


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LONDON - As part of the year-long program of events to celebrate 350 years of Jewish life in Britain, London's Trafalgar Square played host to Simcha on the Square, a Jewish celebration of music and culture, on Sunday. Organized by the Jewish Music Institute, an independent arts body based at the University of London, with the support of the Office of the Mayor of London, the celebration was open to all of London's residents and visitors, apart from Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Although the Office of the Mayor of London contributed funds to the event, the mayor was not invited following many years of strained relations with the British Jewish community. Last year, he refused to apologize to a Jewish journalist he likened to a Nazi concentration camp guard and suggested that two Jewish property developers should "go back to Iran and try their luck with the ayatollahs." Instead, Deputy Mayor of London, Nicky Gavron addressed the attendees. Last week, the Board of Deputies of British Jews accused the mayor's office of insensitivity after it issued a press release highlighting the amount of the mayor's funding for the event. The statement read: "The mayor has provided 60,000 in funding for events to mark the 350th anniversary of Oliver Cromwell's invitation to Jews to return to Britain." Henry Grunwald, president of the Board, said: "His insistence on issuing a press release associating himself with the event in person against the reported wishes of the organizers, shows a lack of sensitivity and understanding at the pain it has caused." In the statement, Livingstone added: "Jewish people make up one of London's oldest communities with a long tradition of contributing to all fields of intellectual, cultural and economic life. These events will give all Londoners an opportunity to learn about and enjoy Jewish culture. I hope we can establish an annual round of events celebrating the enormous contribution of Jewish people to our city. I am determined that not only will London remain a city which does not tolerate anti-Semitism or any other form of racism, but also that we are a city which positively celebrating the gigantic Jewish contribution to human culture and civilization over many centuries." Grunwald responded by saying: "Sadly, the mayor's track record of giving offense to the Jewish community, and failing to apologize, inevitably means this gesture will be seen merely as an attempt at rehabilitating his credibility without any guarantee that he won't cause further offense in the future." The day-long event featured a wide array of Jewish music from the eastern European act, She'koyokh Klezmer Ensemble to the Sephardi melodies of Los Desterrados. Cantors Steven Leas, Gedalia Alexander and Jonathan Murgraff together with the London Jewish Male Choir and the Ronnie Scott Legacy Quartet paid tribute to the late legendary maestros of jazz. Israeli Ladino diva Mor Karbasi and dynamic fiddler Sophie Solomon, with her band, Oi Va Voi, performed a wide array of world music - Jewish Style and Rivers of Babylon played Iraqi Jewish music while British International klezmer clarinettist Merlin Shepherd delighted the crowd that had gathered in the afternoon sunshine. Geraldine Auerbach, director of the Jewish Music Institute and organizer of the event, said: "What could be more symbolic of the community's integration in the life of the capital than klezmer bands and cantors performing under Nelson's Column?" The stage also featured the famous Jewish Lad's and Girls Brigade, as well as the Jewish Youth Choir, the Oranim and Nitzanim dance troupes and the wedding band Neshema. The crowd was also treated to a mass shofar blowing and were able to partake of a range of Jewish food, from borscht to blintzes from London's top koshers restaurants and caf s. In an extensive exhibition, people were able to follow the story of Jewish immigration and understand the cultural activity of many of the Jewish organizations that bind the British Jewish community.

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