Hello. If you are a Jewish person, then I am writing this article especially to you. But who am I? And why have I decided to put pen to paper in a national newspaper, something I have never done before, not even here in the UK, which is where I live?
I was raised in the Christian faith tradition (protestant), though I now consider myself more of a spiritual seeker. More importantly, for many years, I have built up close friendships with several Jews, both in London and Israel, including a rabbi in London.
As an actor (I’m also a musician and poet), I recently played the part of King James 1 of Aragon in the play by Hyam Maccoby, The Disputation. I loved my character because, unlike all the other kings in the Middle Ages, he gave the rabbi complete freedom of speech in the debate and guaranteed the Jewish community their safety from those who would seek to destroy them.
An important part of my job as an actor is to research the character of the part I am playing and the circumstances of their life. Because I was raised as a Christian, I was from Sunday school, aware of the suffering of the Jews. However, I really had no depth of knowledge about it. I felt that, in a sense, the world does a disservice to the Jews by referring to ‘The Holocaust’. Yes, the world must remember the holocaust, but millions of people see no further. In researching my art in the play, I learned that life for the Jews has been characterized by thousands of years of people wanting your destruction or slaughter on a mass scale.
So, why have I written this article?
Firstly, I am not here to discuss the rights and wrongs and the ins and outs of the current situation, or the things that have led up it. I simply don’t want to get dragged into that whole argument. Additionally, it is important for me to state at the outset that I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to be a Jewish person right now, and especially a Jewish person living in Israel. I can sympathize, but I cannot empathize because I have never experienced your particular type or level of suffering. Furthermore, in writing this article I am not taking sides.
So, here is the only reason I have taken what is, for me, an unusual decision to put pen to paper.
Shortly after the events of 7th October, I received a copy of an article written in the Blog section of The Times of Israel. As the person who sent me the article is a Jewish woman and close friend and fellow actor, I read the article carefully and with interest. It was by Dr. Tanya White and was entitled, “People Love Dead Jews – Bad Luck – We are Alive and Kicking”.
I read Tanya’s article very carefully, twice, and had two equal and opposite reactions. I agreed with the majority of what Tanya said. It touched me. I felt it. But I also felt angry because, in my opinion, the title of her article was wrong. It was wrong because not all people love dead Jews.
Because Tanya mentioned her, I looked up the book from which she had taken her title, “People Love Dead Jews” by Dara Horn. In her book, Horn’s view is that the words in Anne Frank’s diary are merely and only inspirational because her perspective was not only incomplete but also false. Three weeks after writing her words, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart”, she met people who weren’t. On the morning of 4 August 1944, the place where she and her family were hiding was stormed by a group of German uniformed police led by an officer from the SS. Having been arrested in hiding, they were considered to be criminals and sent, ultimately, to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where, in either February or March 1945, she died, it is thought, of typhus.
Feeling strongly that the title of Tanya’s title was wrong (even if it was entirely understandable), I wrote to her and received an immediate response. We have been in touch ever since. In one of my emails to her, I said,
To say that “People Love Dead Jews” is to make an absolutist statement that is not true.
Instead, I put it to you that three things are true:
1. A relatively small but highly dangerous minority of the eight billion people on the planet do “Love Dead Jews” because they are possessed with an evil, irrational and psychotic hatred of all Jewish people, wherever they are. And in this mad state, they want nothing less than to see your people wiped from the face of the earth. That is what has gone on for millennia, and it is what is going on right now. Such facts are inescapable.
2. The majority of the eight billion people on the planet aren’t that interested. They just go about their daily lives with their own beliefs (or none at all) and leave everyone else to get on with theirs. For millions, this isn’t a form of apathy towards the suffering of the Jews; it’s just not on their radar.
3. Many people (I would say millions) like me, care deeply for your people. Many of them, like me, have friends who are Jews.
In her article, Tanya said, “Will the world love Jews who are alive? And the greater, more important question: What will become of our internal narrative? How will we return from this moment of fracture, of disillusionment? How will we rebuild our own sense of identity and our own sense of national being? How will I integrate this moment of despair and disillusionment into my own national identity and story of my people”?
I say yes. You will return from this moment of fracture. You will rebuild. Millions of people around the world will continue to care deeply for you.
In closing, and as I said earlier, I cannot even begin to imagine what you are going through. But I plead with you, not to give in to the feeling or even belief that the world is against you. It is not. A minority of people want no less than your annihilation, and they are, very sadly, aided and abetted by still millions more who are simply and very dangerously ignorant and find in antisemitism, an opportunity to feed that terrible human condition of hatred. This is true. But this also, is true. Millions of people like me care deeply about you and are praying for you at this very minute and at this moment in your history.
I leave you with two scriptures from your bible. From Psalm 121, “He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”. And from Job chapter 23, “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; and when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold”.