Sunday, April 18, 2004

I'm an Alien - An Englishman In London?

When I was a young boy I had no questions about my identity. I was an English Chassid. As a Chassid in Stamford Hill there was no problem of split-allegiance, there was simply nothing to split it with. We painted Union Jacks to hang from the window when the Queen celebrated her golden Jubilee and proudly went with all the school when she did her walk-about in Hackney to see her and recite the Bracha (special blessing) for the only Queen who still merited one. Israel was to us a then a far away place where even the postmen were Jewish but that was about as far as it went.

When Menachem Begin was elected one boy in my class stood up and announced that a Frummer Yid had been elected as prime minister of Israel. He was awarded with a stint in the corridor for that piece of heresy. It was only as I grew older and we started talking about what Yeshiva we would attend that the issue of USA or Israel forced the question of my ‘position on Israel’ to the forefront.

Like most of my contemporaries the lure of ‘belonging to a country’ was stronger than the indifference we were served up in school and I became an avid Zionist. Of course in the shul it I went to one did not announce that in public but secretly we all did feel a surge of pride whenever some great coup was recounted that the ‘Tziyonim’ had carried out.

Today with my generation the parents and Balei Batim, and Israeli newspapers and products crowding our store shelves and filling our coffee tables that feeling of connection has become the norm although unfortunately the feeling of pride has become somewhat tarnished and often replaced by quiet discomfort and shared despair.

My children on the other hand are feeling something different altogether. For them the British ambiguity towards Israel and the negativity that they feel from the local media is creating a sort of ghetto defiance that is forcing them to ask themselves if they belong here at all.

The size of our community should give us enough clout to get our position heard and put across. It is not happening because we are not organised and demanding it. Instead of creating housing projects to house first the families and friends of those working in the Housing Association, Jewish organisations in Stamford Hill should be developing political clout and representation that will enable the community to continue to make their homes here and feel they belong.

Maybe if we could develop some pride in our community we could also stop the slide towards insularity and fundamentalism that is the obvious result of alienation.

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