We’re rat­tled, but we’re also ever more di­vided

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THE VIEW FROM THE DATA

IT’S JUDGE­MENT time. And as we stand in shul recit­ing the un­e­taneh tokef, we’ll be re­minded that it is God alone “who judges, proves, knows and bears wit­ness; who writes and seals, who counts and cal­cu­lates.” I don’t know what He’ll make of us in­di­vid­u­ally – that’s a mat­ter be­tween each of us and Him — but I won­der what He’ll record about us as a col­lec­tive. In fact, I’d love to see his fig­ures as He counts and cal­cu­lates. I wish I could share the data I hold with Him too, so that we could com­pare notes and dis­cuss our find­ings. I doubt I’ll get that op­por­tu­nity, but I as­sume He reads the JC, so maybe if I just leave my thoughts here, He’ll at least take a look?

So, God (for­give me: I’m not sure what to call You, or even how best to write Your name — or names), here’s my read of the data I see.

With the whole Labour Party/Cor­byn thing that has been go­ing on, there’s a lot of con­cern out there. Some are even con­tem­plat­ing leav­ing the coun­try, ap­par­ently. You know — packed suit­cases, that kind of stuff.

I’ve been try­ing to mea­sure this. In fact, over the past year, my team has been run­ning a sur­vey of Jewish peo­ple’s per­cep­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences of an­tisemitism for the Euro­pean Union. 13 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Half a mil­lion Eu­ros. It’s been quite a big deal. We’re not in analysis phase yet, and even if I had the find­ings to share with you now, I couldn’t — sorry, EU rules —but if I had to guess, I don’t think it’s go­ing to re­veal a pretty pic­ture. When we ran the Scratch the sur­face and our unity starts to look pretty thin same sur­vey in 2012, 18% of Bri­tish Jews said they’d thought about leav­ing the coun­try be­cause of an­tisemitism. I’d be amazed if the 2018 count isn’t higher. Data pub­lished last week in this pa­per in­di­cate it could be 39%, al­though method­olog­i­cal dif­fer­ences make com­par­isons dif­fi­cult. But it’s al­most cer­tainly in­dica­tive of the trend.

Bot­tom line — we’re feel­ing rat­tled. Not suf­fi­ciently rat­tled to ac­tu­ally leave the coun­try — there’s no ev­i­dence of that for now. But there’s lit­tle doubt: we are more ap­pre­hen­sive about our fu­ture here than we have been for a long time.

We’ve con­fronted it head on, though. We’ve even been oddly uni­fied in our con­dem­na­tion. But scratch the sur­face a lit­tle, and that unity starts to look pretty thin.

The Kad­dish for Gaza episode partly cap­tures it. Per­son­ally, I strongly dis­agreed with the demon­stra­tors, but the venom that was directed to­wards them by other Jews, par­tic­u­larly on­line, made my stom­ach churn. Death threats, Kapo com­par­isons, bla­tant misog­yny — the dis­course was so toxic, it al­most cer­tainly left all man­ner of men­tal health is­sues in its wake.

Then there was the GayW3 episode: the van­dal­ism and the abuse directed at JW3, from some rab­bis no less, for hav­ing the temer­ity to ac­tively wel­come ho­mo­sex­u­als into the com­mu­nity cen­tre. Some of the ac­counts I’ve heard about the treat­ment of LGBT+ Jews in parts of our com­mu­nity are be­yond shock­ing. And the im­pact on in­di­vid­u­als’ men­tal health is clear. Sui­cides, whilst rare, are far from un­known.

And the thing is, God, the data show we’re be­com­ing more po­larised over time. The two fastest grow­ing groups are the charedim and the secular. The cen­tre ground — par­tic­u­larly Mod­ern Or­tho­doxy —is in de­cline. It’s gone from two-thirds of all syn­a­gogue mem­bers to just over half in a gen­er­a­tion. So, whilst we might be able to unite in com­mon cause when we feel par­tic­u­larly threat­ened, the cracks are clear and widen­ing.

In short, when I look at the data, I see a peo­ple feel­ing an­guished and vul­ner­a­ble, yet treat­ing one an­other with in­creas­ing hos­til­ity across grow­ing re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal di­vides, ex­cept on those very few oc­ca­sions when ex­ter­nal threats feel so acute that we some­how man­age to unite in com­mon cause against them.

But as we stand be­fore You this year, while You count and cal­cu­late our deeds and mis­deeds, per­haps there’ll be a few mo­ments of unity be­tween us, sparked not by the ha­tred of oth­ers but by a com­mon de­sire to do bet­ter. The words I’ll be tak­ing with me into shul be­long to the Chief Rabbi in his new pam­phlet on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity: “in­di­vid­u­als, or­gan­i­sa­tions and com­mu­ni­ties can have fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent be­liefs about im­por­tant is­sues and can none­the­less see the hu­man­ity in oth­ers and truly care about one an­other.”

Amen to that.

Jonathan Boyd is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search (JPR)

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