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The Ambassadress

“But in your eyes, your sadness shows.” Harry Nilsson’s lyrics quote is an obscure way to start a blog. I will end it with another, “Going where the weather suits my clothes.”

I have spent my whole life trying to explain and beat antisemitism. Born in the shadows of Auschwitz and brought up in the search for survivors, there were almost none.

My Dad taught us to pass amongst the gentiles unnoticed; you’ll get by. My Mum installed an incessant fear, “When they come for you—be ready to run and start again.” No, ‘if,’ a certainty breathed down our necks. They would come.

I followed Dad’s advice and mingled quietly. On the terraces of Elland Road, I was no longer a persecuted Jew but a member of the persecuted Leeds United tribe. I gained temporary emancipation and preserved my paranoia. As part of Dad’s doctrine, I went to a church school. I knew more about the nuances of Christianity than my religion. I knew Jesus did not hate Jews; he was one himself. The Jews did not kill Jesus; the Romans did. I knew that the many branches of Christianity related differently to Jews. In Aberdeen, in the Nort East of Scotland, I met a population that admired the Jews. Judaism profoundly affected and shaped their beliefs. In my final oral exam, my tutor unashamedly entered the room and answered every question but one for me. My ‘Why,’ afterwards was answered with, ‘You are going to Israel; I come from the same town as Orde Wingate (a British General who helped the fledgling IDF). Yes, there was love; there are roses in minefields too. You must tread carefully. I will not digress to give further of the many examples of kindness—one of which is my dear wife.

All protestant families hear as children the myth, ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.’ This sentence is followed by a universal understanding that the Jews killed him.
Amongst the Protestants are those, who love and admire us for what we are. And some believe their Messiah, the Lord Jesus, will return when we are ingathered and converted. Even in far-off Aberdeen, one organization offered money to convert Jews.

But two religions share an institutionalized hatred of Jews: The Catholic and Islamic faiths. Both these religions have two things in common and one differing factor. Both, on inception, needed a common ‘external’ enemy to unite their followers and niche them as being different from their competitors. The Jews filled this role very well. The second commonality is the infallibility and immutability of their head. In Catholicism, the infallibility passes from Pope to Pope; in Islam, it does not. Change is hard, if not impossible, to make. As far as they are concerned,  if it is not broken, why fix it?

The Jews are different, they are communal, and they are stubborn. However, there are two significant differences between the Jewish religion. The Jews believe that the covenant with our creator was made with him. There are no intermediaries who talk in God’s name. The role of the priest is not obligatory and defined; it is voluntarily earned and accepted. Teaching Judaism is not to admire and accept but to argue and try to refute. Our Rabbis use the principle called ‘Pilpul’, encouraging the student to disprove or add to his teachings. This different tribe live amongst those who openly or tacitly loath Jews or do so when a scapegoat is needed. The epitome of antisemitism is the Holocaust.

In the words of Nilsson, I thought I had to move to where the weather suited my clothes; go home to my land of Israel. I was to discover that anti-Zionism replaced antisemitism. I had heard, as a child, ‘Go back to Israel.’ Now I hear, ‘Go back to England.’ This wandering Jew wondered if we could compromise on Malta. Here in fortress Israel, I often feel there is no hope. We are, and always will be a stiff-necked nation that will stand alone.

Last week I attended a reception at the German Embassy. On hearing ‘Deutschland,’ I cringed; I hated hearing an accordion and chamber music. My mind wandered, and images appeared. Looking at the Germans, I asked myself how many had searched their souls about their parents’ active or silent complicity. I could not answer my question of how sincere they all indeed were. No, I could neither forgive nor forget.
On leaving, I shook the Ambassadress’s hand and thanked her. She looked into my eyes; maybe she recognized something—but Madame Ambassadress, ‘But in your eyes, your sadness shows.’

I knew she had not given up seeking the answer to live in peace. Nor shall I.

About the Author
Born in Leeds in 1944, Michael Benjamin is a retired Psychiatrist and medical auditor, co-founder of Oranit, aspiring author and inveterate cynic.
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