As a British Jew in London, the morning of 24 June was a rude awakening. I’m rabbi to a congregation of more than 3,000 members and barely anyone who had spoken to me over the European Referendum campaign had indicated they were going to vote leave.
This may reflect the particular demographic of north-west London. The national polls had been saying the result was likely to be close, but close in favour of remain. While sermons had been preached on the issues as they might affect the Jewish community at our civically engaged synagogue, we had not taken a line on which way to vote, as we knew there was some diversity in opinion that had to be respected.
Examining the results, one thing is clear – half the country in a vote with a high turnout does not agree with the other half. For the country to split so evenly on such a big issue is worrying.
The Jewish community in Britain is concentrated in London. Of 264,000 of us, according to the 2011 census, more than 75 percent live in London, where the vote to remain was the substantial majority. In the area where
almost all of the members of my synagogue live and which is the area of the highest concentration of Jews in the country, the ‘Remain’ vote was more than 80 percent.
Does this mean that the Jewish community is largely on the losing side of the argument?
We must now consider the impact Brexit will have on our community. Britain has always felt safe for Jews
to thrive in a multicultural, outward-looking, welcoming society. It was a society in which we felt connected to the rest of the world through our membership of the powerful and open European Union. Now it feels uncertain.
Leaving the EU and the process towards it will undoubtedly have an effect on the Jewish community.
We expect it to be harder to raise funds for Jewish community life as the uncertainty of the economy makes our members naturally cautious.
The Jewish community has been thriving with great new institutions and synagogues being built, especially in London. But our ambition may now be on hold.
Some are concerned about Brexit encouraging the far-right across Europe and possibly leading to continental European countries facing the same disunity Britain has just shown.
A community so dedicated to bringing up our next generation may be worried that our children’s future, their options for work and residence, and their ability to study abroad has just been constricted.
Above all, I am concerned that we didn’t really know how the rest of the country thinks. The challenge now is to build national unity as we move forward into an uncertain future.