‘Kol Ha’olam kulo, gesher tsar me’od, lo le’fached…’ ‘The whole world is a narrow bridge, and a person passing over that bridge should not be afraid…’
The immortal words associated with the late Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, are embedded in Jewish memory, especially so since the Holocaust, when those words were frequently uttered by Jewish victims as they met their dreadful, and unspeakable fate in concentration camps.
Why, you may ask am I, as National Chairman of AJEX, the UK’s Jewish veterans’ organisation, writing today in this vein? The answer is that many members of our community are today simply afraid. Sadly, fear has entered the Jewish psyche in the United Kingdom, a country which for generations has been a sanctuary for our community, a country and people who have been good and kind to us for hundreds of years.
These fears emanate from political uncertainty, and a clear and worrying rise in antisemitism, both from the extreme left, and the extreme right. We live in a highly charged political climate where the spotlight is very much on our community, a spotlight which we wish would switch itself off…
Of course, you know all of this, but the reason AJEX is now ramping up its engagement in combating antisemitism is that despite the feelings of many of us that we are possibly re-living the 1930s and 40’s, (although the landscape today is different to that dark period) we as the principal Jewish veterans’ organisation cannot and must not remain silent. It is after all a fact that many of our members, grandparents, and in many cases, our parents, helped in their tens of thousands (60,000 to be precise, plus 30,000 Palestinian Jews) to serve as fighting comrades alongside the millions of British, Commonwealth, and other Allied troops, to bravely defeat the scourge of Nazism and Fascism. So how does this impact on the fears that we currently feel?
Firstly, and foremost, history does not repeat itself in exact terms. There are similarities in historical events and crises, but the outcomes of fear and threats depend to large extent on how we face up to them and how we manage our responses. Strong communal leadership is vital, as is adopting a defiant stance, not cowering or living in denial, and these are all key factors in fighting hatred, and racism.
The core pillars of AJEX are to provide welfare, educational, and remembrance services and support to our members, but whilst we at AJEX take heart from the boldness of other communal organisations who are calling out antisemitism and combatting it, such as the CST, Board of Deputies, JLC and CAA, we as former servicemen and women will not remain silent either. We will continue to promote the values of AJEX and service to Queen and country, and just as in the post-WW2 period, when fascists once again appeared on the streets of the UK, we will play our part in combatting such hatred, be it antisemitism or any other form of racism or bigotry. We will also steadfastly continue to support the hundreds of current serving Jewish servicemen and women in HM forces, through the umbrella Jewish Military Association (JMA) of which AJEX, and the Jewish Committee for HM Forces are key components.
There is no ‘magic bullet’ which cures fear, but maybe we should keep in mind the words of Rebbe Nachman, and work hard to quell our fears, however narrow the bridges in front us may seem …