By Natalie Silver
I am Jewish but you probably wouldn’t guess so if you met me. Just a few weeks ago while I was at work, a supplier asked me if I was ready for Christmas, I told him I was Jewish. His reaction didn’t surprise me, he stared at me and said, “f**k off you’re not!” He continued to stare at me and said, “but you don’t look Jewish and you don’t have a wig” This is not an unusual reaction. My whole life people have asked me if my dad wears a kippah and if he has long curly sidelocks and a beard! When in fact my mum is blonde with blue eyes and my dad is often mistaken for someone who is Turkish, Spanish or wherever we happen to be on holiday at that time!
My father’s family is from Algeria. They were forced to leave Oran because they wouldn’t convert to Islam. My mother’s family are from Russia. They came to the UK to flee pogroms in the 1880s; those that didn’t leave were killed by the Nazis in the 1940s. Britain is a safe place for us and we have earned our right to be here. My ancestors fought in wars for this country and our family built a business that employs local people. We contribute greatly to British society. So why am I fearful every time I take my children to school?
My children go to a Jewish school. Following the shootings in France, they have guards and police dogs on the school gates. Children in a nearby Jewish school have been taught to hide under their desks if given the signal by their teacher. My children are the most beautiful, innocent, unbiased and delightful souls you could ever be privileged to meet. They are that way because we bring them up with values, to love their neighbours and value their friends. Indeed, my son is friends with children of all races and religions. This is because the Judaism I know does not discriminate.
Last week when when jihadist Amedy Coulibaly murdered Jews in a Kosher supermarket in Paris, he claimed it was in retaliation for Gaza. Those Jews shopping that day with their children could have easily been me and my family if that attack had taken place in the UK. Amedy Coulibaly didn’t care how secular they were, or how French they were, or whether they even support, like or have an opinion on Israel. No, they were Jews and that makes me and my children a target for jihadist extremists.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a Zionist. I have never had a personal connection to Israel. I visited once for a wedding and I felt nervous of an attack by a suicide bomber. We were checked and searched each time we entered a hotel, nightclub or public area. However without a doubt I was fascinated by the place. How diverse and young the population are in Tel Aviv. How similar it is to Barcelona; it has a great vibe. Arabs and Jews, young and old, live side by side. It was amazing to be in a place where so many people are Jewish.
So going back to that conversation I had at work before Christmas, do the majority of the British population even know who Jews are? For a small group of people we have contributed so much to British society. From Esther Rantzen, founder of ChildLine, to the pioneering surgeon Sir Roy Calne who won a lifetime achievement award at this year’s Pride of Britain; from Lord Alan Sugar to chart topper Mark Ronson; from actor Daniel Radcliffe to businesswomen Sharon Osbourne. The list goes on and on.
If people only knew who we are and what we contribute to society. Not all Jews are ultra-Orthodox with black hats and beards. Maybe this is the first step to reaching out to the rest of British society and saying, “hey there.. we are just like you!”