Bristol’s reputation for diversity – but not Jews

Swastika daubed on a car in Bristol (Credit: Nick Helfenbein via Jewish News)
Swastika daubed on a car in Bristol (Credit: Nick Helfenbein via Jewish News)

It’s often said, and certainly bears repeating, that Britain and America are countries divided by a common language. To that, I would add “divided by culture”, too. So many things happen in America that puzzle Brits, and vice versa. There was a long debate on social media last week about why Americans don’t have kettles, and how this affects their ability to make a decent cup of tea. 

They don’t have egg cups, either, as I discovered on a first visit to New York some years ago. And their spelling…

Anyway, musing on the whole “America is strange” thing (and let us not go near comment on the current orange-coloured incumbent of the White House), I came across a news item that, try though I might, I could not imagine translating to our lives in Britain.

It was a story that the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, had been busy signing into law the possibility of speciality car number plates – at least three dozen campaigns and causes had applied for recognition.

And among them is a group of people asking for a number plate that will declare, uncompromisingly, “Florida Stands With Israel”. Some of the money for the number plate, which has not yet been designed, will go to the local United Hatzalah emergency ambulance branch, surely a worthy cause.

Yet the more I read this story, the more I wondered about whether such a number plate could exist in Britain. That parapet we’re always invoking, the one that people sometimes put their heads over and sometimes not, would it allow for this? Could we see ourselves driving around with “Temple Fortune Supports Israel” on our cars – even if it does?

Would we feel happy, or safe, or comfortable, with our Israel-supporting number plate when driving in an area where there are few or no Jews?

I am not sure. And then this week came the news of a giant swastika daubed on the bonnet of a car in Bristol. 

The act appears to have taken place on Kol Nidre night. One resident,   Nick Helfenbein, reportedly said: “We woke up to our neighbour’s car tagged with a giant neon swastika. It’s Yom Kippur, and this makes me sick both as a Jew and as a human.”

He added: “This is the holiest day of the Jewish year, and to have a swastika suddenly appear right across the street from our flat, in Bristol of all places, is absolutely harrowing.”

It must have been truly horrible – and even attracted condemnation half a world away from none other than Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin.

Avon and Somerset Police, however, say they have “taken action to try to ensure the offensive symbol is removed from public view and are continuing to try to establish who is the individual, or individuals, responsible”.

Astonishingly, however, the Bristol plods “do not believe this to have been deliberate targeting due to race or religion”. Really? What else do they think might be behind this senseless, vicious behaviour?

“In Bristol of all places,” says Mr Helfenbein, probably because he thinks the city has a reputation for open-mindedness and diversity. Except, of course, when it applies to Jews. 

So, no, I won’t be reaching for that Israel-supporting number plate any time soon, even if money is denied to a worthy charity. 

There’s out and proud, and then there’s the completely unnecessary. 

There are other ways to show support.

About the Author
Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist.
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