Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

A woman wearing a protective face mask and gloves   (Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire via Jewish News)
A woman wearing a protective face mask and gloves (Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire via Jewish News)

Look, I don’t blame you for grumbling. it’s been a dreadful month. Like many of you, I’ve tragically lost friends and acquaintances to the virus. I’ve been deprived of the family round the seder table for the first time in over 80 years. The wife hasn’t been able to go to Brent Cross or the hairdresser, and the granddaughter’s wedding has had to be put off for goodness knows how long.

On the positive side, though, we’re still here. We have been fortunate enough to be able to obey the rules; first, never catch an illness until the medical profession has found the cure; Erysipelas killed Frederick the Great, but I found penicillin knocks it out with no trouble. The second rule is, of course, never to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Left a cinema at 10 o’clock one 1944 night and at 10.15 a rocket totally destroyed a massive church down the road; I’d gone. Seventy staff died when the restaurant at the top of the Twin Towers was destroyed on 9/11. I was working there, but I’d gone again.

If there is one thing we can’t be given for Chanukah it’s mazel. We can find a lot of the answers, though, in the Talmud. There’s a law that tells you to quarantine the contagious. Another tells you to beware of rats if there’s plague around. They didn’t know that till the last century. And have you noticed the rules on washing hands; before you start the Seder service, before the Cohenim bless the congregation. Frederick the Great didn’t wash for thirty years and he was the King.

April could have been worse. We could have lost the JC, after one of those financial problems which have occasionally marked its 180 year history.

The truth is, though, that we’ve had it very easy because of our grandparents and great grandparents. They really had to fight hard; impoverished refugees, who couldn’t speak the language, in an age when there was no dole and no old age pensions. One ancestor is in the 1820 census and another got out of Poland in 1880. The descendants of the families they left behind died in the Holocaust.

I can’t understand why anybody is against immigrants; the only Brits are to be found in Wales after the 6th century, and the obituaries in The Times recount the contribution to the country of pre-war immigrants and kindertransport on an astonishing number of occasions.

The din is clear; you can break any rule if you endanger your life otherwise. By April 14 about 13,000 people had died of coronavirus, including about 220 Jews. That’s about 2% Jews and we’re 0.3% of the population.

We should have closed the synagogues earlier. It might have saved Rabbi Pinter. If the rules aren’t obeyed, even the greatest can fall. The Prime Minister certainly didn’t socially distance himself early enough.

We will look back on this April as a nasty hiccough, but we should remember that it was because of the efforts of our ancestors that we can look back at all.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book
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