My small sign of defiance

Guest Post:

I have been fighting the urge to write about this for so long, but the latest item regarding anti-Semitism sickened me so much, that I couldn’t hold off any longer. Where do I start?

I think perhaps with the question I have often asked people who make disparaging remarks about Jews,  “Have you ever actually known any?” because there are so few in New Zealand.

I was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, where there were a lot of Jews.  I didn’t realise it at the time, but some of my parent’s friends were Jews. I didn’t know they were until I was grown up.  They were just ordinary people.  I grew up to have some Jewish friends too.  I also worked for them in the office of a subsidiary of the famous Marks and Spencer. (Marks, who established the firm, started out with a stall in Kirkgate Market, and obviously must have given good value for the business to grow to its present-day international size)

As an employee, I was treated exceptionally well.  Long before it became common, all employees of M & S had free chiropody, free dentistry, free doctor, and extremely cheap meals in the store canteen, and although I wasn’t IN the store, I received all the same benefits, including 10% off any purchase.  I only left when I married and moved away.

The young Jews I knew were almost all from parents who had escaped Hitler’s Europe, some with next to nothing, in the late 1930s.   Other more established Jews helped them get on their feet when they reached the safety of England. They varied when I knew them. Some had been very successful and had good businesses, others were factory workers etc. All the young Jews in “my” crowd, were students.  One boy, Manfred, was learning Hebrew because his ambition was to emigrate to Israel.  (He did so, and joined the Israeli Navy).

My doctor was Jewish, as was my dentist, all nice, educated people.  In fact, I was so incensed at the anti-semitic attacks in France, and partly in admiration of the “Je Suis Charlie” action, I bought myself a Star of David, and wear it on a silver chain, just as my small sign of defiance.  My podiatrist was surprised when she saw it, saying, “I didn’t know YOU were Jewish”.  She told me that she is, but didn’t advertise the fact which says a lot!  I, of course, explained that I am most certainly NOT Jewish, but very supportive, simply because I know more about them than most.

I was an impressionable 14-year-old when the Allies reached the concentration camps, and will never forget seeing on the newsreels at the cinema the ghastly result of what the Germans had done. The piles and piles of skeletal bodies. It perhaps meant more to me, because for a long time, when Britain stood alone, just 22 miles of the English Channel saved us from invasion, and that could have been the fate of some of our neighbours, not because they had done wrong, just for being Jewish.

I can’t help but recall how my late Kiwi husband always said that an Israeli, Sami, was his best worker, (and he had dozens).  His Kiwi wife, who met him while doing her OE in Israel, when I asked one day about why my employers were so good to their employees, told me that it is Jewish tradition.  In working for them I became part of their “family” and Jews always looked after “family”.

And now for some reason, that anti-Semitism is starting again. Why? Some of our best medical discoveries and best inventions have been made by Jews.  If it were not for envy, surely we should have them on pedestals?

I’ve just ordered a copy of “The Source” by James Michener.  Read it years ago, but want to refresh my memory. Set in present-day Israel and meticulously researched it is about an imaginary “dig” where each level reached by the archaeologists reveals another part of Jewish history there, going back thousands of years. The stories of the present-day people involved is interwoven. I first read it in about 1975, and it made a big impression.

“This is a novel. Its characters and scenes are imaginary except as noted. The hero, Rabbi Akiba, was a real man who died as described in 137 C.E. All quotations ascribed to him can be verified. King David and Abishag, Herod the Great and his family, General Petronius, Emperor Vespasian, General Josephus and Dr. Maimonides were also real persons and quotations ascribed to the last are also verifiable. Akko, Zefat and Tiberias are existing places in the Galilee and descriptions of these towns are accurate, but Makor, its site, its history and its excavation are wholly imaginary”.

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If you agree with me that’s nice, but what I really want to achieve is to make you question the status quo, look between the lines and do your own research. Do not be a passive observer in this game we call life.

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