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The generation gap

If you have no memory of the palpable risk of Israel's destruction, you might just say kaddish for terrorists
A group of Jews gather in Parliament Square, London, to recite kaddish for 62 Palestinians killed in Gaza, on May 16, 2018. (Screen capture: Facebook)
A group of Jews gather in Parliament Square, London, to recite kaddish for 62 Palestinians killed in Gaza, on May 16, 2018. (Screen capture: Facebook)

I was born in 1960. My father and mother were born in 1925 and 1927 respectively. Whilst this may not seem particularly relevant to the current row over the “Kaddish for terrorists” incident, it appears to me to provide some explanation. Kaddish, I should add is a solemn memorial prayer said for one’s dearly departed. It is always treated seriously, and so, when said for terrorists, as it was, it stirred up a massive storm of anger.

Whilst I was growing up, I remember my mother always scraping out the marmalade jar so that there was nothing left. Her explanation for this was that growing up during the war, her family had to make the best use of everything and nothing should go to waste. This habit extended to her requiring me and my brother always to eat everything on our plates. She used to tell stories of people she met at university in the mid 1940s, and nearly always described one man or another as an ex-serviceman. The sadness that befell her family when their shop was bombed during the war was told and retold, as was the realization after the war that the air raid shelter they used turned out not to be quite as robust as they had believed.

My father’s tales were different, since he came from South Africa and his war experience was not the same. His repeated insistence that I should not forget that it was the Soviet Union who helped to defeat the Nazis has never left me.

1967 passed me by, as I was a little too young to understand, but the Yom Kippur War in 1973 left indelible memories for me. I remember with crystal clarity the rising concern during the course of that day, as people came in and out of shul, with ever increasingly alarming stories. Eventually, it became clear: sometime in the early afternoon of Yom Kippur, the Egyptians had crossed the Suez Canal and had moved into the Sinai desert; the Syrians had crossed from the Golan Heights and were in Northern Israel. I remember how the warden of the shul stood on the bima and told us, a small community, of the disaster that had befallen us, and exhorted us to double our contributions to Israel, which had been pledged earlier.

In the days following, stories also came back of how reserve soldiers had been called away from their shuls or homes, to defend their country, some never to return. The ITV News at 10 initially showed grim news, as the Egyptians made progress across Sinai, and then, miraculously, better news as the Syrians were driven back over their border, tanks were moved from the North to the South on low loaders and finally, the Israelis crossed the canal in a daring maneuver, which saw their fortunes dramatically change. Ultimately, there was a ceasefire, and, some years later, to my family’s delight, a peace treaty was negotiated with Israel’s former arch enemy Egypt. The prospect of an overall peace was on the horizon.

In 1973, Israel was still in need of assistance from the Diaspora. Oranges were still a major export, and the country needed more people to make the economy grow. For some years now, Israel has been a major exporter of IT and pharmaceuticals. It has a much larger population and is economically so much stronger than before and since 1973, for 35 years there has been no existential threat to the Jewish state. And therein lies the source of the current problem.

The “Kaddish for terrorists” people are predominantly young, under 30. They don’t have my memories; they have their own. These are likely not to involve their parents telling them about wars, or shortages or threats to the existence of Israel. By and large, these memories are going to be about their bar or bat mitzvah, holidays abroad, whether they should go on tour at 16 and which university to go to. The issue of university fees will be high on their agenda as well as the increased costs of housing in London. Their experience of violence against Israel and Jews has been that of suicide bombers, or isolated — and deadly — attacks around Europe. Peace talks with the Palestinian Authority ended so long ago that they are unlikely to register, and of course there have been no peace talks with Hamas. Little wonder that these 20-somethings feel that Israel should be doing more.

In 1933, a motion was passed at the Oxford Union “that this house will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” In the context of what we know now about what was happening on mainland Europe, this seems extraordinary. Bear in mind though that those voting on the motion were 20-somethings, whose parents had just lived through the war to end all wars, and who, having been born just before the First World War, lost fathers or uncles or knew people who had. Those memories will have informed their view on avoiding another war.

For our 20-somethings, the opposite is the case. They have no memory of wars against Israel, the risk of her destruction, and the palpable fear amongst the Diaspora which accompanied that. Their memory is one of intractable conflict and now they see what they believe is a large and powerful force gunning down innocent civilians.  Their belief is so strong that even when faced with the reality that the majority of those killed were in fact Hamas operatives — in other words, enemy combatants — it was too much to absorb. The Kaddish went ahead and the rest, as they say, is history.

So where have we, the older generation gone wrong? How have we failed to educate our children about the realities of those who hate us, and despise the idea of a Jewish state?

The reasons are various: greater affluence, a desire to push the positive aspects of Israel rather than the threats, and, above all, the belief that somehow or other, the message IS getting across to the younger generation. If that is why, and I am sure there are other reasons, then how do we close this generation gap? In the 1930s, it was the inevitability of, and then the start of the Second World War that changed the attitudes of the King-and-Country generation.

For many in the UK Jewish community, the reality that the leader of the Labour Party and the Shadow Foreign Secretary hate Israel is likely to be enough to understand that we are under threat as never before, since the Second World War. The depth of and visceral nature of the attacks on Israel by Corbyn and Thornberry sadly betrayed their intense hatred of Israel, and consequently the idea of Jewish nationhood. It is so clear that they and those who support them see Jews not as a nation, but followers of a religion who are not entitled either to a state or even to define for themselves what is or is not anti-Semitic.

I do not believe that this is enough for the “Kaddish for terrorists” group, since by the time they said their piece, they already knew they would be praying for terrorists and went ahead anyway. The fact that they are unrepresentative of the community is poor consolation for their act.

They may be a lost cause, only time will tell. There needs to be a careful analysis of how it is that our youth are taught about Israel, anti-Semitism, and the threats to both. Somewhere, sometime, mistakes have been made, and through education these need to be addressed.  It may be that whatever efforts are made to make peace with Hamas, they will continue to hate us and refuse to live with the Jews next door. If that is the case, then the next generation will not only have to understand this, but also learn to live with it.

About the Author
Robert Festenstein is a solicitor based in Manchester with considerable experience in Court actions. He is active in representing groups opposing BDS and fighting the increase in anti-Semitism, particularly amongst the left-wing in the UK.
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