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