We have found our voice at last

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY STEVEN JAFFE

NORTH­ERN IRE­LAND’S tiny Jewish com­mu­nity com­prises fewer than 80 mem­bers. But when it pre­sented its man­i­festo to the po­lit­i­cal par­ties last year, jointly with the Board of Deputies, the province’s then First Min­is­ter Ar­lene Foster, Deputy First Min­is­ter Martin McGuin­ness, and other party lead­ers set aside time to meet them.

This week,while cam­paign­ing for the North­ern Ire­land As­sem­bly elec­tions, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers were again out in force. They at­tended the reded­i­ca­tion of the Jewish sec­tion at Belfast City ceme­tery fol­low­ing its des­e­cra­tion.

Over 30 years of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence the com­mu­nity kept its head down. Now it has found its voice and set out its vi­sion in the shape of that man­i­festo, re-is­sued for this week’s elec­tions.

The prob­lems faced by North­ern Ire­land’s Jewish com­mu­nity are the same as de­clin­ing Jewish com­mu­ni­ties else­where in the UK — only more so.

Once num­ber­ing more than 1,200, the com­mu­nity main­tains a syn­a­gogue, full-time rabbi and so­cial cen­tre. Keep­ing up the minyan and a sup­ply of kosher food — much of it brought in from Manch­ester — are bread and but­ter is­sues.

Since the Good Fri­day Agree­ment, the com­mu­nity has also built up po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions and in­ter­faith ac­tiv­ity which are the envy of much larger Jewish cen­tres.

The lo­cal branch of the Coun­cil of Chris­tians and Jews is one of the most ac­tive in the UK. Last week the so­cial cen­tre was packed when Rabbi David Singer launched his book­let ex­plain- ing Ju­daism to non-Jewish au­di­ences as part of a new ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tive.

But the up­surge of an­ti­semitism has not by-passed North­ern Ire­land. The com­mu­nity has re­cently had to re-eval­u­ate its Face­book pres­ence be­cause of vile and hate­ful on­line abuse.

Com­mu­nity chair­man Michael Black said the abuse had par­tic­u­larly up­set older mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, but added that such in­stances of an­ti­semitism were rel­a­tively rare. The Belfast Is­lamic cen­tre also con­demned the abuse.

It is of­ten con­flict in the Mid­dle East which gen­er­ates ex­trem­ism at home. In the dis­tinc­tive con­text of North­ern Ire­land’s pol­i­tics, the mainly Protes­tant Union­ist par­ties tend to sup­port Is­rael and the pre­dom­i­nantly Catholic Na­tion­al­ist par­ties are pro-Pales­tine.

Is­raeli and Pales­tinian flags are used to de­mar­cate work­ing-class Loy­al­ist and Repub­li­can ar­eas.

Off Belfast’s Protes­tant Shankill road, a 30-foot dis­play salutes the fore­fa­ther of the Is­raeli army, Colonel JH Patterson, an Ir­ish­man who com­manded the Jewish Le­gion dur­ing the First World War.

A three-minute walk away, across Belfast’s so-called Peace line, on the Repub­li­can Falls Road, a mu­ral pro­claims solidarity with Pales­tinian pris­on­ers and calls for Is­raeli diplo­mats to be ex­pelled from Ire­land.

The province’s sec­ond largest coun­cil, Derry, which has a Na­tion­al­ist ma­jor­ity, is seek­ing le­gal ad­vice on how it can en­force its res­o­lu­tion to dis­crim­i­nate against Is­raeli busi­nesses, ed­u­ca­tional and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions.

Such ac­tiv­ity sits un­com­fort­ably along­side the com­mit­ment of these par­ties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, to a di­verse and in­clu­sive so­ci­ety — which they are at pains to point out em­braces the lo­cal Jewish com­mu­nity.

I joined com­mu­nity deputy chair Ger­ald Steinberg to meet Derry coun­cil of­fi­cers charged with im­ple­ment­ing the res­o­lu­tion, to ex­pose such in­con­sis­ten­cies. North­ern Ire­land Friends of Is­rael, which has 700 sup­port­ers on its mail­ing list, pos­i­tively pro­motes Is­rael and coun­ters anti-Is­rael ex­trem­ism.

On the ground, an Is­raeli-owned cos­met­ics stall has been forced out of a shop­ping cen­tre and fam­ily busi­nesses have been sub­jected to in­tim­i­da­tion and abuse be­cause they im­port Is­raeli goods. At times of con­flict in the Mid­dle East, the syn­a­gogue has been phys­i­cally at­tacked and threats is­sued against Jews on so­cial me­dia.

The man­i­festo there­fore re­minds the par­ties that ex­trem­ist state­ments about the Mid­dle East breed the kind of in­tol­er­ance at home for which they ex­press “zero tol­er­ance”.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties to pro­mote Jewish her­itage and culture in North­ern Ire­land are grow­ing.

The “Jews Sch­mooze” ini­tia­tive, di­rected by syn­a­gogue coun­cil mem­ber Dr Katy Radford, at­tracts large au­di­ences to its con­certs, ex­hi­bi­tions and lec­tures.

Peter Weir, Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, an­nounced last month that the Holo­caust Ed­u­ca­tional Trust’s “Lessons from Auschwitz” pro­gramme would be ex­tended to North­ern Ire­land’s schools.

Belfast’s Jewish com­mu­nity, one of the UK’s small­est, is con­fi­dent and out­ward-fac­ing and re­fuses to be pushed to the pe­riph­ery — in ei­ther North­ern Ire­land or Jewish life.

There is a full-time rabbi and so­cial cen­tre’

Belfast-born Steven Jaffe is a con­sul­tant to the Board of Deputies and co-chairs North­ern Ire­land Friends of Is­rael. His work is part-funded by the JLC.

Rabbi Singer at the re­paired ceme­tery

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