There is plenty of room for success

Some thousands of Jewish youngsters are back at their universities now, contemplating a future more difficult than they deserve. They owe a great deal for their education, the quality of which has been undermined by covid. They need jobs in an economy which is bound to have been affected by Brexit. They can see inflation mounting,  more antisemitic incidents and hundreds of thousands of new covid cases every day.

What can they see if they look on the bright side? To start with, the indomitable courage of their grandparents. So many of them came to this country as refugees, penniless, not speaking the language and also without jobs. The comfortable homes of most of our students are the result of the hard work of their grandparents and parents.

If the grandparents didn’t make the grade, so many of the parents did, starting off with practically nothing. Lord Alan Sugar began selling radio aerials and electrical goods off the back of a van. Sir Jack Cohen made Tesco what it is today, but began with a stall in Hackney market.

These are not exceptional Jews. They followed in the footsteps of their ancestors who, time and again, had to start from scratch as they suffered discrimination, pogroms and massacres. They were barred from many famous medical schools in many countries until well after the Second World War, but when they finally got in, they went on to collect over 200 Nobel prizes.

Today, in this country, racialism is a criminal offence. The ancestors of our students didn’t have that advantage either. What the present students do have is some exceptional genes. To prevent them competing with the members of Christian Guilds, for centuries Jews weren’t allowed to trade in traditional fields. They were only allowed to work in occupations where there was a degree of risk.

So, because of this antisemitic legislation, they, perforce, learned to find the hole in the market. They invented things which have been of enormous value to the British economy over the centuries. For example, a refugee Jewish German banker, Siegmund Warburg, invented Eurobonds. Sir Ronald Cohen was a refugee from Egypt and is known as the father of British Venture Capital. Jews invented portable gramophones, Internet games and cargo insurance. They handled the majority of the Indian Diamond export industry in the 18th century and I haven’t even mentioned the Rothschild. Of course, they weren’t always successful. Samuel. Montagu made a fortune as a bullion broker, but he wasn’t able to convince the government to introduce decimal currency. That only happened 60 years after his death.

There are plenty of things which still need inventing. Electric cars are the latest, but Zimmers could be improved for the handicapped. We need faster growing trees, we need to cure cancer and somebody has got to start writing papers which explain how to use equipment, so that we ordinary people can understand. It is embarrassing to keep on asking the grandchildren for help.

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