By Gabriel Webber
On Saturday, the great and the good of the Jewish community will be in Golders Green, standing alongside a motley group of anti-fascists (including George Galloway) counter-demonstrating against a neo-Nazi rally.
When I first saw the flyers for the fascist protest, I thought it was a joke. Its reference to “the Jewification of England” and the innately violent and racist teachings of Judaism was such a perfect parody of Islamophobia that surely it had to be a spoof.
And even now I know it’s real, I can’t help being slightly amused by how precisely it parallels the anti-Muslim beliefs of a depressing number of my fellow Jews.
Joshua Bonehill-Paine, the 22-year-old anti-Semite from Yeovil responsible for the event, surely belongs in the Jewish News list of 25 influential Jews aged under 25 . He’s set the agenda and mobilised the entire Jewish communal establishment with an effectiveness that I can only dream of.
— Gabriel Webber (@gabrielquotes) June 29, 2015
But why are we/ they doing Bonehill-Paine’s job for him?
At the last Board of Deputies plenary, the representative for Golders Green Synagogue made an eloquent plea for people to keep calm and carry on, without counter-demo [which you can watch here].
“Absolute business as usual, in safety” was his priority. “The view of my community is that a counter-demonstration will give this small number of demonstrators the oxygen of publicity. It is giving them far more respect and attention than they deserve. It may endanger those who have to walk past to get to shul.”
He’s absolutely right. It goes without saying that any area containing a group of angry neo-Nazis is far from pleasant. But the most effective, sure-fire way to make a small group of angry people even less pleasant is to introduce a larger number of opposing angry people, turning a nasty demo into a nastier fracas.
So what will I be doing on Saturday while all this is going on? I’ll be working. At a synagogue on the opposite side of London, the 10 students who have volunteered to give up their summer as senior leaders on LJY-Netzer’s camp Machaneh Kadimah will come together for the first time.
Over four days, I’ll be supporting them to come up with an excitingly packed two-week programme of Jewish activities to enthral and inspire the next generation.
Teaching young people to celebrate their Judaism is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal, as a community, to ensure continuity. If there are still Bonehill-esque anti-Semites around in 50 years, there are still Jews around, and I’ll be pleased.
We can’t always be in defence mode. The Talmud relates what happened when Rabbi Shimon bar-Yochai emerged from hiding from the Romans after 12 years in a cave. He was so furious to see a Jew living as a humble farmer rather than taking up arms, that his glare vaporised the farmer in an instant. God sent the rabbi back to his cave for destroying someone who was innocently enjoying Creation.
Sometimes, we just need to have fun as Jews and let our hair down (payot optional).
My day planning the summer with a team of youth leaders will be more productive, and far more rewarding, for all of us, than would be a day spent shouting ourselves hoarse at a counter-demonstration. And just fancy having to bear the stress the stress of deciding whether to shout at Joshua Bonehill-Paine or George Galloway!
The real Jewification this Saturday will be happening at LJY-Netzer. My team will be Jewifying our own lives and those of our community’s young people.
Multiplying the number of angry voices in Golders Green just multiplies anger. But enchantin 120+ young Jews with their religion and teaching them to see it as something to live out proudly is really special.
This article was written in a personal capacity.