OPINION: Four lessons all Brits can learn from Indian and Jewish communities

OPINION: Four lessons all Brits can learn from Indian and Jewish communities

At a time of political turbulence, two minority share convergent values and stories which offer an inspirational message to the whole of the UK

Lord Gadhia and Chief Rabbi Mirvis watching Zaki Cooper speak during the event at Marble Arch shul
Lord Gadhia and Chief Rabbi Mirvis watching Zaki Cooper speak during the event at Marble Arch shul

At a time of political polarisation and division over Brexit, it’s important to remind ourselves what we have in common. As Indian and Jews, we have a very special connection, united by common values and ideals.

Last week, during Inter-Faith Week, leaders from the Indian and Jewish communities gathered at Western Marble Arch Synagogue. The Chief Rabbi, along with other religious, political, business and cultural figures reinforced the ties of friendship between two of Britain’s most successful minority communities. The distinguished guests included an Old Bailey Judge, members of the House of Lords and top entrepreneurs.

This was one of the major events of Inter-Faith Week, which saw well over 500 inter-faith events and initiatives all over the UK. The blossoming ties between Indians and Jews is part of the rich tapestry of the UK’s inter-faith relations and a crucial axis at an anxious time for both communities. There has been an ugly rise of antisemitism in Britain, as well as continued hate crime aimed at Indians (just two weeks ago, two Hindu temples in north London were ransacked).

However, the UK is enriched by its population of 1.5 million Indians and 300,000 Jews. We believe that the convergent values and stories of both communities offer an inspirational message to the whole of Britain, and that there are at least four clear recurring themes.

First, although both communities continue to face prejudice, we have not let it define us. Both Indians and Jews have embraced Britishness, and are amongst the most patriotic of citizens. Indeed, they have a long history of military service supporting the armed forces. For instance, 1.5 million Indians and 50,000 Jews (a high proportion from a small community) served in the First World War.

The second lesson we can learn from both communities is that with hard work and tenacity, you can fulfil the “British Dream.” Both communities came to this country with modest means, and through their perseverance, not only made a life here but a disproportionate contribution to all walks of life. Many worked in the clothing, textile and food industries. Jews were often market traders and the Asian corner shop is now part of common folklore. As the communities have integrated, and benefited from a high quality education, many Indians and Jews have become professionals – meeting their parents aspirations for their children to become lawyers, doctors and accountants.

Third, each community has shown a flair for entrepreneurship. Historically, because access to some jobs was restricted, Jews and Indians relied on their wits and created their own businesses. There have been stand-out success stories from both communities, such as Jewish business people Michael Marks (M&S) and Jack Cohen (Tesco), alongside Gulam Noon (Noon products) and Jasminder Singh (Edwardian Group of hotels). Incidentally, our two communities have also contributed to UK cultural life, and this “soft power” has enriched the country. As an example, many Jewish playwrights and comedians have left their mark, while Indian food and dance has become hugely popular – and curry is now the nation’s favourite dish.

Fourth, family and community life lie at the heart of both communities. The television series, The Kumars at No. 42, depicted a close-knit Indian family and it contained familiar themes for the Jewish community. At their best, each community balances individual responsibility, with obligations to their families and wider society.

Indians and Jews have made and are making a vast contribution to all areas of British public life. Through a positive attitude and an embrace of British values, our communities continue to thrive and provide a role model for others. In the present season of Diwali and Chanukah, both festivals of light, we hope that the current darkness of antisemitism and race hate will make way for a brighter future.

  • Lord Gadhia is a British Indian Peer and Zaki Cooper is a Trustee of the Indian Jewish Association.
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