As the Paris terror attacks heighten fears for Jews living in the United Kingdom, I feel a growing identity with them, especially those in north London who are being forced to post special guards amid high security around their schools and institutions.
When I first came to England as a young man, I was living with my half-Jewish grandmother in Hampstead, north London. She never spoke much of her Jewish connections, influenced no doubt by the cool reception she received from the family into which she married when she came to the UK from the United States at the end of World War I. As secretary to Herbert Brenon, a Hollywood film director, the young Minola de Pass was accompanying him on a trip to London, but was distracted by this dashing officer she met in the revolving door of a hotel.
My grandfather’s family were from Yorkshire in the north of the country and moved among the ‘polite society’ of the landed gentry. But according to my mother, it took a while for them to warm to Minola because… well… she was Jewish! Anti-Semitism was rife in Britain then, even in polite society.
Gran did, however, often mentioned her Catholic upbringing – but with loathing, as she had some bad experiences. Her mother was Irish and her father, a Sephardic Jew forced with his siblings to leave Portugal in the wake of centuries of persecution there, evidently agreed to bring up his children in the Catholic faith – the Catholic Church never compromises in the case of mixed marriages.
So I guess what I’m saying is that she wasn’t as proud of being Jewish as she should have been, and when I became a Christian soon after moving in with her (I had a church background, but now made it personal), she was my chief persecutor!
Matriarchal and super-confident, gran had made it in the business world at a time when most women were at home looking after the children, and had very strong opinions. So we argued a lot, and of course (being a new, rather green convert) I thought I knew more than I did, and was neither patient nor understanding. But she later softened her attitude and became more open to my views as she recognised the sincerity of my faith.
Meanwhile the person who most influenced my early years as a Christian was a lovely Jewess called Helen McIntosh. Like gran, she was also a businesswoman, but in the evenings would help nurture young converts through Bible studies. ‘Convert’ is not the word she would have used to describe herself, however – she committed her life to Jesus at a Billy Graham meeting at Haringey in north London in 1954, and forever afterwards described herself as “a completed Jew”. By which she meant that she had not been ‘converted’ because she believed Jesus was a fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures.
It’s what the early Christians believed too until Gentiles began to predominate in the Church, eventually all but cutting themselves off from their Hebraic roots. From then on Jews who followed Jesus were forced to lose their cultural identity in what became the greatest tragedy ever to plague Christendom. And it wasn’t long before the very people who had given Jesus to the world became the target of persecution.
As a man called Raul Hilberg is reputed to have stated: “The early missionaries of Christianity had said in effect: ‘You may not live among us as Jews.’ Secular rulers from the late Middle-Ages then decided: ‘You may not live among us.’ And the Nazis finally decreed: ‘You may not live’.”
Christians, including myself, need to repent of our appalling sin. Please forgive us, dear Jewish brothers.
I wish my gran could see me now. I am so proud of my Jewish roots, and indeed of the Jewish roots of my faith. And in my latter years – I have just retired from full-time journalism – I see that as my chief calling: to spread the truth of God’s great plan for Israel, his chosen people. As a nation that has survived many attempts at genocide and has been repeatedly attacked by armies much larger than their own and yet come through victoriously, Israel remains a testimony to God’s existence, his character and his faithfulness.