Walking through Golders Green a poster in one of the bakeries stopped me in my tracks. It read: “Thank you to the police for keeping us safe. Make sure to enjoy a free pastry on us with your coffee!”
It reminded me of the old joke – “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” Could there be a more Jewish sign?
The poster encapsulates the hallmarks of the British Jewish community. Our respect for our country, our pride in who we are, our humour and the hope we hold on to even in the darkest of times.
We need that spirit now more than ever.
Like many of you, I’ve spent each day since the depravity of the Hamas massacre of 7 October agonising, waiting for news from loved ones in Israel, while watching in despair at the loss of life in Israel and Gaza.
This war feels close to home. As a Jew in public life, I meet hundreds of people every week on doorsteps, charity events and at religious services. In every conversation with Jews, the collective anxiety is palpable.
The Community Security Trust has recorded over 1300 antisemitic incidents across the UK, since October 7th, the highest ever total over a 40 day period.
That is shocking. But it is the stories behind the data that really bring this home.
The friend who now removes his kippah on the train to work. The parents who warn their children to avoid central London for fear of encountering angry protests.
The students who tell me that what should have been the start of their campus adventure is turning into a nightmare.
We must redouble our fight against antisemitic hate so that all of us can live full Jewish lives.
This means, as individuals, explaining and asking more of our non-Jewish colleagues and friends. As leaders, it means demanding concrete action from our institutions, universities, and media to call out and tackle the root causes of antisemitism.
Yet, amid the darkness, it is important not to despair.
Whilst there’s no room for complacency – our history shows us that – there are reasons to be hopeful.
Our country’s leaders, in both major parties, have our backs. The Police, the Government and the leader of the Opposition are united in their commitment to protecting British Jews.
As Labour’s Parliamentary candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, I have been impressed by Keir Starmer’s strong support for our community.
He has remained steadfast, even in the face of criticism.
The protection of Britain’s Jews is not and should not be party political.
In the wake of the attacks, I convened a meeting with David Lammy, Yvette Cooper, the CST and Jewish community leaders to learn about our community’s experience.
They have been in regular contact, re-committing to stamping out antisemitism and providing long-term funding for the CST.
Locally, I have worked with Barnet Council to respond to meet the increased vulnerability of schools, synagogues and care homes.
I know that our security depends on the strength of the relationships with neighbours.
That is why I’ve met with local Christian, Hindu and especially Muslim leaders to share the experience of what our community is facing and how they can support.
Some of these conversations have been challenging but they are necessary if we are to protect the inclusivity which defines Britain and our community’s place in it.
I know from conversations with British Muslims that they too are also experiencing increased prejudice at the same time as a huge sense of grief at events in Gaza.
We cannot lose our empathy.
We must find hope in areas of common ground. The ongoing partnership of CST and Tell MAMA, which works to tackle anti-Muslim hate, or interfaith events which were held this Mitzvah Day are a source of such hope.
We must grasp it. For as the much-missed late Rabbi Sacks wrote, the Jews are a people of hope.
“It is no accident that so many Jews are economists fighting poverty, or doctors fighting disease, or lawyers fighting injustice… It is no accident that after the Holocaust, Jews turned to the future, building a nation whose national anthem is Hatikvah, “the hope”.
As British Jews we must not lose that hope. We must be proud of our Jewish lives, of our charities, our youth movements and thriving communities. What we have is something special, something which those who despise us and chant “from the river to sea…” can never understand.
As I left the bakery, stocked up with gooey rugelach, I hummed “gesher tzar me’od”, the whole world is narrow bridge.
It’s a tune I learned as a child and now sing with my own family. Its words resonate today: “lo lifached k’lal”, “The main thing is to have no fear at all.”
While we may be fearful right now, we must never lose hope.
Sarah Sackman is an environment barrister and Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green
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