Last week I found myself in the second row of the Royal Court Theatre watching a wonderful actress recount how my family came to the UK and wondering why on earth people care about my story. What I realised throughout Jews. In Their Own Words was not the importance of my story, but the collective power of the storytelling of the Jewish experience in the UK.
In a society where antisemitism flourishes through the social acceptance lent to the practice of blocking Jews out of conversations about us and reflexively mistrusting our concerns, it is all the more valuable Jewish people have been given an open platform. Not just an open platform, but a two-hour slot where we can be frank, honest and, in a world where the punchiest comeback wins regardless of content, we can take the time to explain ourselves and introduce the nuances and inner conflicts which truly represent us.
A great strength of the play is its ability to tell not just the headline stories but those of Jewish people going about their everyday activities, jobs and social lives. Through my work at UJS, I was somewhat used to being included in the “…and others” after a list of high-profile names, but it is the interweaving of all interviewees’ stories which adds colour to the raw data of antisemitism of which we are all increasingly aware.
While the Labour Party has taken productive steps to turn around institutional and structural issues, the experiences of Jewish people involved in antisemitic progressive spaces remain largely unknown. So too do national conversations about antisemitism omit the long-term real-world effects which sustained antisemitism abuse and bullying can have. In wider progressive spaces, the problem persists and the impacts remain.
This is why I chose to be involved; to share my experiences with a scriptwriter and director who I trusted to honour and highlight Jewish voices. Having only experienced the occasional Twitter pile-on and the odd in-person confrontation, I do not pretend to be the worst hit by this issue. When the storm does come, I pick my battles, lock my Twitter, block every troll and wait for it to pass. I often choose not to speak about the abuse I receive, as I believe that it just doubles the problem. And while I try to be brave and educate and speak out, the second I receive abuse I, and probably most Jews, want nothing more than for it just to go away.
In Jews. In Their Own Words, this is what I discuss; having to make choices about my career, my social media presence, the level of abuse which I can tolerate and the balance which I am forced to build between my Jewish pride and my mental health. The opportunity to show wider society the absence of blackshirts marching on the streets does not equal the absence of antisemitism. The platform to express the diversity in background and experience of our community, and give an insight into our collective thinking.
I’m grateful for the opportunity this play has given me and other Jews to share our experiences, speak openly, be unafraid of having our words twisted and collectively reach audiences that individually we never would have.
For those very familiar with the issue, it is a cathartic experience to see those thoughts you cannot quite express laid out eloquently on stage by a phenomenally talented cast. For those who want to learn more, I encourage you to enter with an open mind, and in the knowledge that this play is the product of delicate and very real human experiences.
- Hannah Rose is a Research Fellow of ICSR
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