Hon­our­ing the New Year

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE -

The Prime Min­is­ter hosted a Rosh Hashanah re­cep­tion at Down­ing Street on Wed­nes­day

IN THE cold and lonely early hours of June 9, as her premier­ship teetered on a precipice, Theresa May might have mo­men­tar­ily won­dered whether she had missed her chance — not to in­crease her ma­jor­ity and lead Bri­tain as Prime Min­is­ter for years to come, but to host a Down­ing Street re­cep­tion for the great and the good of the Jewish com­mu­nity.

Ad­mit­tedly she may not have thought that — but on Wed­nes­day evening Mrs May did mark next week’s New Year with her first fes­ti­val event for Jews at Num­ber 10 (last year’s prospec­tive Chanukah party hav­ing not taken place be­cause it clashed with Christ­mas).

Un­der David Cameron th­ese soirees be­came the hottest ticket in town, and his suc­ces­sor did not dis­ap­point, wel­com­ing dozens of char­ity work­ers, vol­un­teers and Holo­caust sur­vivors for steak sand­wiches and cham­pagne.

One of the nicest sights this year, was the in­creased num­ber of strictly Ortho­dox at­ten­dees and the cross­party guestlist. In her speech, Mrs May rightly noted there were “peo­ple from all parts of our Jewish com­mu­nity and all parts of our so­ci­ety” present.

It was Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who stole the show, nail­ing an anec­dote about David Ben Gu­rion, lead­ing to whoops of laugh­ter in the room.

As he spoke, Mrs May had a glazed ex­pres­sion — per­haps no sur­prise at the end of an­other long day of Brexit broi­guses and a gru­elling Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions. For all her protes­ta­tions, there must, surely, be times when she wishes she had packed it all in back on June 9. The name of Arts Min­is­ter John Glen was as un­likely to be on the tips of the tongues of Jewish com­mu­nity mem­bers as it was to fea­ture in the pages of the JC — un­til this week at least.

The Tory MP for Sal­is­bury and South Wilt­shire has been slowly but surely climb­ing the ranks since his elec­tion in 2010. While his cur­rent min­is­te­rial brief sees him deal with is­sues such as libraries and tourism, it also over­sees mu­se­ums, and it is in this guise that he has turned his at­ten­tion to Holo­caust resti­tu­tion. His pas­sion­ate in­tro­duc­tion at this week’s ma­jor global con­fer­ence at the Na­tional Gallery be­fit­ted the im­por­tance of the event. It is of­ten easy to mock politi­cians or to over­look the work they do. Day-long sym­po­siums on war-re­lated top­ics rarely gen­er­ate head­lines or prick the pub­lic’s con­science.

And few votes are to be won in seek­ing to stand as an ex­am­ple to the world on an is­sue such as re­turn­ing Nazi-looted art pieces to the heirs of those mur­dered in Europe 70 years ago. But the gov­ern­ment and its min­is­ters de­serve praise for do­ing just that.

Amid the con­fu­sion and chaos of Brexit and a hung Par­lia­ment, in Mr Glen, Bri­tish Jews are of­fered proof that we can some­times find friends in un­likely places and cir­cum­stances.

Sir Vince Cable, the new Lib­eral Demo­crat leader, is not highly thought of among Is­rael sup­port­ers, largely for his ef­forts to im­pose an arms em­bargo in 2014.

But I un­der­stand that at a re­cent re­cep­tion he sought out Mark Regev, the coun­try’s am­bas­sador to Bri­tain, to point out he ac­tu­ally re­gards him­self as a friend of the Jewish state. Ap­par­ently the push for a ban — which caused a ma­jor rift in the coali­tion gov­ern­ment cab­i­net — was all down to the civil ser­vants ad­vis­ing him. Fancy that!

It’s of­ten easy to over­look the work po­lit­i­cans do

PHOTO: DOWN­ING STREET

PHO­TOS: CHRIS MCAN­DREW

John Glen (left) and Sir Vince Cable

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