Dear Rabbi,

As a member of the Coventry Reform Jewish Community, I was very disappointed with the blog you have recently published in Times of Israel. I found it misguided, odd and unrepresentative. It is unfortunate that a Senior Rabbi of the Reform Movement appears to direct her barbs against the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism – rather than against anti-Semitism!

Your article opens with an account of the so-called Battle of Cable Street:

They banged pots and pans, booing and hissing from the windows of their homes, pelting the opposition with rotten vegetables and stones.

These British Jews, alongside their neighbours, defeated the Nazi-affiliated British Union of Fascists, who wanted to free the country of foreigners ‘be they Hebrew or any other form of alien’, dispersing their three thousand-strong rally. Jewish workers ensured the ‘Blackshirts’ were the only aliens on British turf. The so-called Battle of Cable Street took place in 1936.

Of course, I share your pride with regard to this episode of Jewish courage and solidarity.  But what was it, if not one aspect of a campaign against anti-Semitism?  And how can you forget that in 1936 Jews standing up to Nazi rallies (and winning!) constituted, unfortunately, a very-very rare exception?

Let us remember, Rabbi, that defeating the Nazis took more than banging pots and pans; it cost the lives of 70 million human beings – including 6 million Jews, most of them ‘exterminated’ like vermin.

Graffiti on a London pavement, 2008

Graffiti on a London pavement, 2008 (free to use, photo by Community Security Trust)

Let us not forget, Rabbi, that what saved British Jewry from that fate was not the Battle of Cable Street; nor was it the policy of appeasement advocated – then, like now – by misguided, self-deluding ‘pacifists’; rather, it was Churchill’s ‘militarism’ that stood between the British Jews and the crematoria that devoured their brethren on the Continent.  And perhaps more of those brethren would have saved themselves, had they not listened to those who – then, like now – encouraged them to ignore the danger, telling them that “there is so much to celebrate”, that “discrimination does not necessitate desertion, but devotion” and that they are safe.

Number of anti-Semitic incidents across the United Kingdom, 1997-2012, as recorded by the Community Security Trust.

Number of anti-Semitic incidents across the United Kingdom, 1997-2012, as recorded by the Community Security Trust. (own image)

I also deplore the fact that a Senior Rabbi of the Reform Movement chose to bring politics where it does not belong.  It is not “Netanyahu’s narrative” that has increased the number of French Jews who make Aliyah; nor is “Netanyahu’s narrative” the cause of British Jewry’s growing unease.  Neither the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, nor Netanyahu are the enemy, Rabbi; anti-Semitism is.

The Movement for Reform Judaism declares proudly, on its website: “We are unequivocally Zionist”.  It is this Movement that I joined, not one whose Senior Rabbi implies that making Aliyah represents “desertion”.

After opening with an example from 1936, your article ends by declaring:

This is not the 1930s.

I certainly hope it isn’t.  But neither of us was given the gift of clairvoyance; so let us make absolutely sure that the 2020s won’t resemble the 1940s.