Neither Jew nor Greek

Contemplating the recent media `hype' and accusations of anti-Semitism, levelled at both individual politicians and society in general, my thoughts turned to the words I have quoted from St. Paul and his Letter to the Galatians. Whether the accusations are true or not it is hard to deny that note of anti-Semitism that runs through modern European culture, 'not a coherent belief or ideology,' writes the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, rather 'Jews have been hated because they were rich and because they were poor, because they were capitalists and because they were communists, because they believed in tradition and because they were rootless cosmopolitans, because they kept themselves to themselves and because they penetrate everywhere,' such thoughts have a kind of universal application, for Sachs goes on to conclude that anti-Semitism is a 'hatred of difference..., an assault not on Jews only, but on the human condition as such.'

To be fair to politicians, a certain former Mayor of London apart, much of their so called anti-Semitism stems from their particular view about the ongoing difficulties between Israel and Palestine; none of us like what we see happening there and we all hope for the day when there will be a just and equitable settlement whereby Israelis and Palestinians can peacefully co-exist together. Having a more left leaning, pro— Palestinian view does not necessarily make a person anti-Semitic, no more than it makes someone who is appalled by the evil deeds of 'Islamic State', anti- muslim! In the same way, those who are worried by the numbers of migrants coming to Britain, can not all be automatically labelled as racists just because they have legitimate concerns about the impact this is having on the British Economy, not least on jobs and housing!

Britain has a long and proud history of welcoming all comers— political and
religious refugees, others just seeking a new start and a better life; and so it

is that we have become the multi-ethnic, multi -cultural society that we are! Growing up in London's East End, this was more than obvious to me; my grand parents lived in Stamford Hill, in the midst of what was and still is an ultra-orthodox Jewish community, Grodinsky's the bakers but a few steps away from their council flat! A short bus ride away, Finsbury Park, home to many Greek Cypriot families, the men sitting at pavement cafes, smoking and playing cards. If my Nan and I were feeling a bit more adventurous then we would take a trip to Dalston Market, which in those days seemed to have hundreds of stalls, representing all the nations, exotic fruits, spices and vegetables, Halal meat and Kosher butchers and good old fashioned English Greengrocers with fruit and veg that actually tasted of something! I remember too, as a young priest, teaching in a school in Peckham welcoming an influx of an earlier group of refugees who had taken to the seas, what we referred to as Vietnamese 'boat people', whose children soon became a fair proportion of my pupils. Over time this has become the story in many of our towns and cities!

Although some find it hard to accept, the Church has always taught that there are 'no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female-all are one in Christ Jesus.' In other words difference is not just something we should put up with, rather we should embrace it, and that is what we need to do in Britain if we wish to continue to flourish as a nation and still play a leading role in the global community. There will of course always be groups that feel threatened and will fight hard to maintain their religious and cultural identity, however if they want to be part of our open and inclusive society then they also have to learn to live with difference and accept that their ways are not necessarily everyone else's; the over-riding need is that we all try to get along with each other! It is somewhat ironic that Londoners have just elected a Muslim Mayor! In his acceptance speech he said his election showed 'the triumph of hope over fear, unity over division'- surely this is the way to go, not just for Londoners, but for the country as a whole! To live in peace and harmony, a country where any harmful 'difference' will become a thing of the past!

your friend and priest,

 

Fr. Keith