The other night my eldest son, a final-year medical student, called me over to his computer to show me the application forms for his next stage of training.
While he deliberated over choices of hospitals, my mind began to drift. I couldn’t stop thinking about my late grandfather.
A Ukrainian immigrant, he had arrived in Britain as a teenager at the start of the 20th century, fleeing vicious pogroms in Eastern Europe, to start a new life in a country whose language he couldn’t even speak.
On settling among other immigrant Jews near Victoria station in Manchester, my grandfather supplemented his meagre income from work at a synagogue by forming a choir to perform at weddings and bar mitzvahs. A few generations later, here was his great-grandson, studying to be a doctor.
My grandfather was ever grateful for the sanctuary afforded him by Britain. He couldn’t wait to become naturalised, and when World War I broke out he became a stretcher-bearer for his adoptive country.
Yet a century after he took those first steps on British soil, and accepted the promise of shelter from persecution, many of this country’s 270,000-strong Jewish community no longer feel we have a home here.
Even to articulate such a point is for me — a proud Jewish woman and patriotic Briton — indescribably painful. This has always been my home. A place where my Jewish culture and British heritage have mingled in the blood.
But profound change is afoot in this country. As the Labour Party continues to reveal its toxic underbelly, for many British Jews the question of uprooting our families and leaving Britain is a matter of when, not if.
My circle of friends read the stories that emerged from the recent Labour conference with sinking hearts — if not with surprise, because the party has form.
The ugly phenomenon was laid bare last year with the suspensions of both Jeremy Corbyn’s old ally Ken Livingstone, who claimed that Hitler ‘supported’ Zionism, and the MP Naz Shah, a rising star of the Labour Left, who was caught sharing racist and offensive material on Facebook.
Over recent months, dozens of Corbynite activists, councillors and officials have been suspended or expelled from the party. Some have used social media to promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial; others have praised Nazism, or cracked jokes about Jews having ‘big noses’.
The topic made front pages at the Labour conference last month when activists at a fringe event were recorded comparing Zionist Jews to Nazis, and claiming that asking the question ‘Holocaust: yes or no?’ ought to be regarded as legitimate free speech.
And this week, the BBC’s Andrew Neil said in a speech that hard-Left anti-Semitism is now ‘more dangerous’ to the UK than the extremism of the ‘knuckle-dragging’ far Right.
No wonder this is a topic endlessly deconstructed over Friday night dinner tables in Jewish households all over the country.
Where once, at this most traditional meal of the week, we would idle in the afterglow of hot chicken soup and sweet Kosher red wine, now talk turns to whether Jews have a future here.
We wonder if this is what it felt like in the Thirties, when even the most assimilated of German Jews debated the increasingly venomous status quo. If history has taught us Jews anything, it’s knowing when it’s time to pack.
To the outsider, our response might sound like an overreaction, even hysterical. But that’s not who we are. If anything, pragmatism and forward planning are ingrained in Jewish DNA.
Many of my friends have already left for Israel, or are investing spare savings in property there, so they have a foothold in the one place in the world that will guarantee an unconditional welcome.
Every time one leaves or makes the investment, as another close friend did only a few days ago, I feel a terrible pang of — what — envy? Truthfully, yes. Not for their apartments overlooking a glittering Mediterranean. But for the fact they have a base in a country offering a refuge from anti-Semitism.
One friend, Maxine Marks, who runs an estate agency along Israel’s coastal plain, says that since Corbyn took over the Labour leadership she has seen a 25 per cent increase in inquiries from British buyers. ‘Many people say the same: if Labour get in, we’re out.’
Indeed, with an increasingly popular Opposition party apparently incapable of solving its anti-Semitism problem, how can we Jews feel safe?
Think we’re exaggerating? This year the Community Security Trust — a charity working against racism — revealed the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain reached the highest level on record in 2016.
So once again our people face an exodus — not fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe, or the jackboot of Nazi Germany, but the prospect of a government that can’t be trusted to care enough.
There’s no doubt that even before Corbyn took over, there’d been a steady growth in anti-Semitism, with events such as the Arab-Israeli conflict in Gaza inevitably triggering a spike in attacks.
The irony is that British Jews are deeply patriotic — in our Saturday morning synagogue services we say a prayer for the Queen and Royal Family.
Yet it seems the far-Right, Islamic extremists and now the hard-Left don’t see it that way.
That’s why my children, who all attended Jewish faith schools in Manchester, have, by necessity, been educated in buildings encircled by fences, CCTV cameras and security guards.
Elsewhere, every Jewish building now has a guard permanently stationed at the door. In 21st-century Britain — the place of our birth and our home.
Most Jewish people I know have endured cat-calling as they leave synagogues, schools or other Jewish centres.
There have been countless Saturday mornings when, as I walk to synagogue, a car screeches past with the occupants shouting something indeterminate from the window. Friends have had eggs thrown at them.
My son was subjected to a blistering verbal attack when he recently wore his Jewish skullcap on the London Underground.
Little wonder that in a YouGov poll earlier this year for the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, almost a third of British Jews said they had considered leaving the country, while one in six said they feel unwelcome here.
One of my friends who recently quit Britain for a life in Israel sends me messages asking: ‘When are you coming to join us? We’re waiting for you?’
Of course, not every Jew in the UK will feel the same way — I can only write about my experiences and those of people I know. Others, particularly if they are not so intimately connected to Jewish schools or synagogues, may not feel the tensions so keenly.
There is no doubt that to leave now would be a wrench. My husband runs an accountancy practice, we have two sons at university and another one applying for a place. Our daughter, only 13, is in the middle of her schooling.
Besides, I have non-Jewish friends and colleagues whom I adore. And there is so much to love about this country — the lush greens of the Lake District, the gritty humour of my home city of Manchester, even the delights of the Marks & Spencer food hall.
Yet I know in my heart that my family will not see out our lives here in the UK. The fact that the Conservatives have felt like our natural protectors used to help me turn a blind eye to burgeoning anti-Semitism. As Home Secretary, Theresa May said that ‘Britain would not be Britain without its Jews’ and committed to providing £13.4 million for security measures in the Jewish community.
And, in 2014, David Cameron announced a Holocaust Memorial Commission tasked with building a lasting memorial near Parliament. Yet such staunch support could be wiped out at a stroke by a squabbling Tory Party whose domestic disputes could throw open the door for Labour.
We know what that means. With the advent of Jeremy Corbyn, friend to the virulently anti-Israel militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah and a magnet for increasing membership from militant supporters, anti-Semitism has been breeding like bacteria on the Left of British politics.
Labour will point to last year’s report by Shami Chakrabarti, former head of the human rights group Liberty, into anti-Semitism in the party. She lamely asserted that while there is an ‘occasionally toxic atmosphere’ against Jews in Labour, anti-Semitism is not prevalent in the party’s ranks.
But her words, to paraphrase H. G. Wells, were bows and arrows against the lightning. The report was a joke (as was the fact that Corbyn nominated her for a peerage just months later).
Labour has promised to tighten up its response to anti-Jewish sentiment. But as a statement from the Board of Deputies of British Jews has made clear, it remains to be seen whether those who question the Holocaust, or call for Jews to be purged from Labour, will still be welcome in the party or — as the Board’s chief executive put it — ‘thrown out as they so obviously should be’.
For many Jews, it won’t be worth hanging around for the answer. To my friend who tells me she’s waiting for me in Israel, I can only say the wait may soon be over.
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