Archbishop Exclusive: ‘My Cousin The Rabbi’

Justin Welby’s comments, on the eve of his enthronement at Canterbury Cathedral today, came during an interview with the Jewish News in which he also voiced opposition to Israel boycotts, revealed plans to visit the Jewish state this summer and praised the Chief Rabbi as “one of the most significant religious thinkers”.

The past few months since being named as Archbishop have been transformative for Welby, not just because of his elevation within the Church of England but because he learned for the first time – as a result of a Daily Telegraph investigation – of his family’s Jewish roots.

Chemist Dr Gerhard Weiler, a cousin of the Archbishop’s father Gavin, fled with his family after Hitler came to power, later being registered as an “enemy alien” in the UK.

The 57-year-old former bishop of Durham said he was “really, really pleased” to discover details of his Jewish ancestry, but added: “It’s quite sobering to think I had a bunch of second cousins that didn’t escape.”

The great-grandfather of the man who will be formally confirmed today as the leader of 80 million Anglicans worldwide, along with three of his brothers, headed to London more than four decades earlier. The father-of-five told the Jewish News: “Once we’ve moved in properly, we’re going to meet up with some cousins who I had no idea about. One of them is a rabbi who recently wrote to me. He’s one of the senior teachers at a Jewish college in London. We’ll try to meet up, or get them to Lambeth Palace to do something fun to celebrate. To discover you’ve got a family you didn’t know about is really exciting.”

He also revealed he hopes to visit the grave at Hoop Lane Cemetery in Golders Green of his great-grandmother Amalie, who lived in Hampstead until her death in 1914. The Cambridge-educated former oil executive comes to office just eight months after Anglican-Jewish relations were severely strained when the Church’s Synod voted to affirm support for a programme accused by the Board of Deputies of producing “very partisan activists” on the Middle East.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel takes participants to the region for around three months, but critics point out that only a fraction of that time is spent in Israel, before accompaniers return to give public talks about their experiences. The private member’s motion also expressed support for Israelis and Palestinians working for peace and for aid agencies in the region.

Welby said last summer’s vote – on which he abstained – had “clearly” damaged relations.

And in an unusual step he said: “On reflection, I’d have voted against. I wasn’t quite up to speed when I went into that vote. I think the situation in the holy land is so complicated that we always have to show we recognise this and I don’t think the motion adequately reflected reflected the complexity.”

He said he would have wanted something added to the text saying the Jewish state, like any other legitimate country, has the right to “live in security and peace within internationally-agreed borders and the people of the region have the right to justice, peace and security, whoever they are.”

While Welby said the situation caused by the Synod vote was “a concern and something we keep an eye on”, he stressed that he was not in a position to instruct the democratic Synod on how to vote.

Given that the EAPPI is not a CoE initiative, he added, it also wasn’t in the church’s “gift” to introduce a system of oversight of presentations made by returning participants, as urged by community leaders amid concern over the content of some talks.

But the 105th Archbishop wanted to “encourage” an “excellent” proposa, recently announced, for participants to spend a weekend with a Jewish family in Haifa.

The Archbishop – who said interfaith relations have always been “very important” to him – has gained vast experience in the field of reconciliation over the past decade, lecturing on the subject at the US State Department and undertaking work in Africa and elsewhere.

Asked whether he planned to voice his views on overcoming the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the 57-year-old said his reconciliation work had, in fact, taught him to speak out “extremely carefully… and only if I think I can make a significant difference.”

Welby said he was “very much looking forward” to making his first visit to Israelin his new role in June, when he will continue the series of meetings started by Dr Rowan Williams with Israel’s chief rabbies. “My wife and I went on honeymoon there and it’ll be her first time back since.”

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Opinion: The Joy And Tears Of Marrying ‘In’ To The Jewish Community

“Walk down the aisle?” I harumphed. “It doesn’t look that way, does it? This is my WEDDING DAY and the groom’s family haven’t turned up.” A perfect spring day, plumped with possibility and excitement, had shrivelled into catastrophe.

One hundred and eighty guests had been seated for over an hour in a small wedding chapel in France. A heavily-treading usher had informed us that the groom’s family still hadn’t appeared. Looking into the chapel, I could see an impatient congregation twitching feverishly.

“Do you think they haven’t turned up because their Jewish son is getting married in a chapel?” I hissed. “But we promised that there would be no Christian references! And there’s the Jewish ceremony tomorrow.” Marching my way up and down the room, I tore out petals from my balding bouquet. “Don’t worry, darling. They will turn up. I’m sure of it,” said my mother. The catch in her throat sent a gallop of panic up my stomach which settled and thickened in my throat.

My fiancé, Oliver, and I had been together for seven years. We met during our respective years abroad, in Sydney, Australia. “I’m Jewish, you know” he had told me over a glass of wine. “Oh right,” I had said. “And my family are all Christians.” The implications of this conversation had been muted by the neon-coloured booze and thrum of music.

It was only on our return to London and things were getting serious, that I realised how this was going to play out: “I’m sorry, but you can’t meet my parents,” Oliver had grimaced one night. “My family won’t allow you in the house.”

“What? But last week I was coming with you to your brother’s wedding?”

“Hmmm. I think my parents thought you were Jewish. You are called Rebecca, after all. But then your surname came out.”

I was finally invited by Oliver’s brother and sister-in-law to the circumcision of their son. It was the first time I would meet all of his family and it was a black silence that welcomed me to the bris.

One lady, eyebrows triangulating in horror, turned her back on me. After months of diplomacy and tears, Oliver’s parents asked me to witness the wonderful traditions of a Friday night supper. I was welcomed, but with reports of one in two Jews marrying out, they were wary of a Christian girl from Chelsea.

As Oliver’s mother and father started to accept me, my job as a journalist took me to Jordan. A recent terrorist attack had blown apart a wedding in Amman and Oliver’s parents, on account of his Jewish upbringing, were terrified about letting him visit. The ensuing rows threatened a family breakdown, non-stop screams shattering the quiet Radlett streets. Oliver boldly went against his parents’ wishes and booked a return ticket to the Middle East. In doing so, the message he sent to his parents was set in stone as solid as the the Ten Commandments.

When I returned to England, Oliver proposed. Navigating the wedding wishes of both sets of parents proved tricky. My parents were set on a traditional Christian white wedding and Oliver’s parents, after realising I wouldn’t convert, wanted a non-demoninational occasion. Months of rows led to the break-up of our engagement.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I had cried. “Me too,” Oliver replied, chewing his lip.

After two months of misery and separation, we stumbled upon a resolution to please both parties. Over a year-and-a-half of planning and three massive wedding celebrations were needed to satisfy everyone. Forget a Jewish Princess – I was like the Queen! The whole situation was so fraught that neither of us had a moment to assimilate our feelings about our own religious ideals.

It was only when I started writing a book about my experiences of marrying into a Jewish family, that I could begin to make sense of the complex emotions of trying to retain my own identity while respecting that of my boyfriend’s.

As I sat in my wedding dress praying for Oliver and his family to appear, I had a moment of clarity. As the band desperately clung on to the last note of Handel’s Xerxes for Largo for the tenth time, I realised that I could never solve the problem of not being Jewish.

I could, though, use the foundations of my own religious background to face whatever was thrown at me with dignity, grace and courage.

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Opinion: Shared Parenting – One Size Definitely Does Not Fit All

Divorce is no longer considered an aberration, but an acceptable transition for a substantial number of families. While children tend to live with their mother following divorce, an increasing number are proposing that children have a “shared” amount of time with both parents. Shared parenting has been attempted in a range of countries outside the UK, with varied results.

Many adult clients describe the psychological effects of divorce as traumatic or devastating, such as the residential changes, financial tension, changes to social networks and role strain. Some have said these added stresses contributed to physical or mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. Their levels of patience and attention have been reduced, they believe, which may affect their parenting abilities.

When working with children, there is often a range of emotional issues following divorce. Younger children tend to present with bedwetting, sleep issues or behavioural problems, whereas older children may describe anxiety, depression, and social or relationship issues. The number of children presenting with pyschological problems seems to decrease with the number of years that elapse. I have also been consulted by adults seeking therapy for psychological difficulties that have persisted throughout their childhood (following their parents’ divorce), including relationship struggles or trust issues.

With this in mind, there has been a call for government to review the legislation on shared parenting. In my opinion, the benefits are clear; the contribution of both parents in a child’s life on a regular basis, the balance of responsibilities as well as rewards of being with your child regularly (to name only a few) is certainly compelling.

Nonetheless, I am also aware of the potential danger in employing a “one size fits all” practice. By changing the law to instruct all divorced parents to embrace shared parenting, one runs the risk, while providing benefit to some families, of aggravating the situation in others. Although many parents desire and are able to provide a loving, caring home for their children as a single parent on a regular basis, others may not. For various reasons, some may feel they can be a better parent if they are instead able to have regular visitation. In more extreme cases, shared parenting can have dangerous effects if parents have a history of violence or abuse. It is paramount such a legal change seeks to provide appropriate safeguards, therefore, in those cases in which shared parenting is not deemed the best solution.

Research suggests children fare best within an environment of love, security and consistency, where parents communicate effectively with one another. Children whose parents are able to work together, in spite of their own differences, can create a consistently balanced, secure and loving home for their children based on quality rather than geography, and where the child understands they were not at fault.

Divorce is by no means necessarily an unwanted or potentially harmful event. On the contrary, in some cases, it can be the healthiest option. However, it seems clear the critical issue is how the separation is dealt with, and the effect this can have on the parents and children. We live among diverse environments and relationships.

When considering shared parenting, we need to ask what is in the best interests of the child. There may be times when this does not match with the best interests of the parents, and my concern is that by enforcing shared parenting for everyone, we may be putting the rights and needs of parents ahead of those of the children.

So, rather than reducing this debate to a matter of residency, or employing a ‘one size fits all’ rule, we should discuss how we can best help each individual situation, so children experience minimum loss and psychological impact.

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Opinion: At Pesach, Let Us Remember Our Obligation To Others

In the run up to Pesach last year, I wrote here about the slavery that is still so much a part of our world’s reality. This year, I’d like to focus on the positive opportunities products like Fairtrade-branded goods offer us in guaranteeing workers get a living wage and a fair price for their produce – and some unique Jewish opportunities to engage with Fairtrade.

Over the past few weeks, we have been reading in the Torah about the construction of the tabernacle (the mishkan) and the skilled workers of the community who created the incredible adornments and tools of the movable Temple. Judging by the gifts of gold, precious stones and acacia wood the Israelites gave towards its construction, the mishkan was quite something to behold!

But the community that constructed the travelling Temple had just been freed from their previous construction jobs as slaves in Egypt, and for the first time were building something of their own determining (if God’s design!). It is partly this freedom to build and create as their hearts motivated them that we will celebrate at the end of the month when we sit down to our seder meals. But so much of our lives the rest of the year potentially helps to prevent others enjoying the same freedoms and dignity in the work they do.

Maimonides taught (Hilchot Deot 5:13) that in business we should be careful not to deny others a livelihood, even where it might be legal to do so. Many products we regularly buy might fall into this category, from coffee and tea to bananas, oranges, sugar, clothes and chocolate. So at Pesach, when we celebrate our own freedom, we should do our best to ensure that what we eat and wear does not enslave others.

Pesach isn’t the only Jewish tool we have at our disposal, though. There are many, but in particular next year, 2014, will see the start of the next shmitta year – a year when the Bible instructs us to leave our fields lying fallow, giving the earth a rest, leaving food in the fields for the poor, and giving the workers a rest and perhaps time to focus on other areas of their lives. While this also has the potential to lead to economic loss for many, it could be an opportunity to respond to ecological problems, as well as social disparities.

This was strongly suggested by Yair Sheleg in Ha’aretz in 2007, when the last shmitta was about to begin. He suggested not only that the shmitta might be a useful tool for the land, but that the economy should be built to support sabbatical years for all workers, allowing them time to focus on personal development and spiritual growth, (an idea promoted by Rabbi Yoel Ben-Nun).

Sheleg further suggested honouring the shmitta in more creative ways; reducing exploitation of natural resources by a seventh, or creating a giant fund in which one seventh of a business tycoon’s profits would be contributed to a fund for reducing economic disparities, as perhaps the original shmitta was intended to do. With recent EU legislation capping bankers’ bonuses, perhaps this would be an alternative model to the current system. Sheleg concludes saying: “In this way, shmitta could be transformed from a despised word to one that bears tidings for all of humanity”.

Perhaps, similarly, Pesach could be a way for us to transform our thinking and our behaviour around consumption and some areas of economic disparity. As we approach Pesach, it seems like the perfect time to reflect on our own freedoms, and to think about what we can build with them.

We have fabulous opportunities to contribute to Fairtrade – we can buy Fairtrade kippot, serve Fairtrade coffee, tea, sugar and chocolates (Divine Fairtrade chocolate even has a hechsher) in our homes and synagogues, and maybe even make our own tallitot from Fairtrade scarves, adorning our mitzvot as the skilled Israelites did their desert mishkan. Some have suggested adding a piece of chocolate to the symbols on our seder table as a timely reminder of our modern responsibilities.

So this year, as we celebrate our own freedoms, let’s remember that we also have a responsibility to honour the freedom of others, and acknowledge the power our own consumption can have on those freedoms.

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Opinion: Hamas Scurrying From Peace Like Cockroaches From Light

This time, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system will be on display when the aircraft arrives at the airport. This is more than just a PR move to show off the Israeli-developed and US-funded system. Israeli officials are worried the Obama visit could spark a third Palestinian intifada.

According to Adam Kredo, writing in the Washington Free Beacon, unrest has been growing in the Palestinian territories ahead of Obama’s visit, which starts on March 20.

Firebombs have been thrown at police by worshippers inside the al-Aqsa Mosque, a potential hotspot for a return to violence, especially if Obama were to visit the holy spot. This was the putative excuse for what Arabs term the al-Aqsa intifada of September 2000, after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount. It was nothing of the sort. Months later, PA communications minister Imad Faluji admitted the violence was planned in July, some three months before the visit.

“The Palestinians have not said the final word yet, and we expect there will be attempts to take advantage of the upcoming events, like the visit by Barack Obama, to continue the violence,” Israel public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovich was quoted as saying on Monday by news outlet Arutz Sheva.

To be fair, Mahmoud Abbas does not want this, but Hamas, which is in a power struggle with the PA, has been promoting the idea. Hamas operatives, according to reports, are based in the West Bank and Israeli intelligence officials are reported to have “uncovered a Hamas terrorist network in Hebron,” Kredo reports. This is a dangerous situation for Abbas; a Hamas-engineered intifada would be as much against him and his weak grip on power, as it would be against the Israelis.

“We call on the masses of the Palestinian people to change this path and demonstrate against receiving he who considers Israel ‘the closest ally in the region,’ and to refuse the return to futile negotiations,” a spokesman for the youth group Palestinians for Dignity said on Monday, according to Palestinian Ma’an news agency.

Besides the current unrest at al-Aqa, there has been an upsurge of violence in the West Bank and at checkpoints in the northern portion of Gaza, involving stones, Molotov cocktails and a number of riots. Islamic militants in Egypt have also begun launching military drills that include the firing of long-range missiles. One rocket, fired from Sinai, bordering the Israeli south, travelled 28 miles and landed in the desert, leaving a large crater, according to Ma’an news. This may be why Israel reportedly moved her missile defence system to the airport.

Obama will find out one doesn’t need to go to the Temple Mount (Judaism’s holiest place of worship) to give Palestinians an excuse to riot. The Palestinians, who may be planning simple demonstrations to take advantage of his visit in front of the world’s media, may find they spark a flame that cannot be controlled, with Obama finding he has more in common with Benjamin Netanyahu than he previously thought.

It is instructional to note that when the 2000 intifada was pre-planned that July, it was just after Yassir Arafat’s return from Camp David when he “turned the tables on the former US president and rejected the US conditions” (Mitchell Bard, Myths & Facts, p250). Arafat had scorned overtures of land and of peace then and instead used it as an excuse to start a brutal uprising.

So it is the same today. Obama may learn the hard way from his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories that the Palestinians – Hamas in their power struggle with the PA to be sure – are neither interested in land nor in peace. In fact, peace to Hamas is an anathema and any overtures to violence on its part are not the result of Israel’s actions, the “stealing of land”, visits to holy places, or conditions in Gaza.

Instead any violence or possible sparking of another uprising is a direct response to any peace initiative on the part of the president or the Israelis. Hamas will scurry from even the thought of peace quicker than cockroaches from light.

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Blair speaks of Israel friendship as he opens new Mill Hill shul centre

The new £3.2 million Ner Orre Community Centre, which took a little over a year to build, is set to become a “hub” for the local community, which with 1,000 member families had outgrown previous facilities. It features six classrooms, a hall and youth lounge in addition to the rebuilt Annie and Samuel Levy Hall, named in memory of longterm member Lord Levy’s parents.

The former prime minister wished those involved a hearty “mazeltov” and, in front of an audience that included his wife Cherie, Chief Rabbi-elect Ephraim Mirvis and Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub, described the driving out of Jews from England in the 13th century as a “disaster”, before hailing the work of today’s communal institutions, including Jewish Care, Norwood and the CST.

He insisted such bodies were underpinned by values including family, education and charity “as an aid for people to make more of their lives and be empowered to do what they wish to do”. He added: “That, for me, is what the Jewish community at its best represents in our country. And its vibrancy is a testament to the fact the Jewish faith is based on compassion and sense of obligation to the broader community and to others.”

Blair touched on his role as envoy to the Quartet – for which he will shortly embark on his 98th visit, saying: “People say I am a friend of Israel – sometimes it’s a compliment and sometimes it’s not. But I am and I’ve become more so since I’ve begun visiting there regularly.” While he said he could level criticism at Israeli governments, he added: “I’ve got to know the country and the people,
but also something of what makes Israel, Israel. These values of respect for the family and education and community are there.”

The centre’s unusual spelling of Orre – meaning light – forms an acronym of the
names of the parents of Rita and Stanley Davis, the project’s principal donors. During the ceremony, Stanley affixed the mezuzah to the front door of the building, while Lord Levy added the mezuzah to the Levy hall.

Blair said he joined the celebration at the centre “with a sense of gratitude for what you do in this community centre, for what the Jewish community do in our country and for what the Jewish community and the Jewish faith represent in our world today. I’m proud to have been part of (today).”

Mill Hill’s Rabbi Yitzchak Shochet said: “The commitment and generosity of so many enabled this dream to become reality. It reflects the incredible community spirit in one of the fastest growing and leading communities in Anglo-Jewry.”

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Miliband: ‘My Debt To Israel’

His comments came during a session with 300 community members last Thursday, organised in partnership with the Board of Deputies, at which the Labour leader also stressed the importance of religious practises being preserved and fiercely condemned George Galloway’s recent refusal to debate with an Israeli.

Offering a glimpse into how his background informs his views, Miliband, who is bidding to become Britain’s second Jewish-born premier in 2015, recalled visiting his grandmother in Israel when he was aged just seven and asking about the identity of relative in a photograph on the mantelpiece. “My grandmother teared up,” he said. “It was her husband who’d been killed in the camps. From that moment onwards, I realised the state of Israel was giving my grandmother incredible sanctuary. So, I have huge respect, admiration and a debt not just to Britain but also to Israel.”

While he told the audience at the Royal College of Surgeons that “it doesn’t mean I always agree with the government of Israel”, he added: “I am totally intolerant of those who question Israel’s right to exist – totally intolerant.”

Asked by one audience member if he’d describe himself as a Zionist, Miliband said: “The answer is ‘yes’, because I consider myself a supporter of Israel. I think it’s important… that as somebody who supports not only Israel’s right to exist but has huge respect for what Israel does. I count myself in that category.”

But following a flurry of media reports on those comments and frenzied debate on Twitter, a Labour source later stressed: “Ed did not use the word ‘Zionist’ to describe himself” but had “made absolutely clear that he is a strong supporter of Israel”.

On boycotts, the Leader of the Opposition left no room for interpretation, describing such campaigns as “totally wrong”. He added: “We should have no tolerance of boycotts. I’d say that to any trade union leader, any Labour Party member, anybody who asked me. How do you create a two-state solution? Not with boycotts.”

Becoming the highest profile political figure to wade into Galloway’s recent walkout from a debate at Oxford. He told the gathering he’d been “shocked” by the Respect MP’s “shameful behaviour”.

Turning to some of the most pressing issues facing the Jewish state, Miliband expressed hope that the incoming Israeli administration will help advance the two-state solution. Pressed by Board vice-president Jonathan Arkush on Iran, he echoed the British Government by urging a “twin track” approach of sanctions and attempts at negotiation.

“No, it isn’t bound to work,” he conceded. “But it’s absolutely essential that we pursue that with all the vigour we can.”

Quizzed on domestic issues, the Labour chief pledged to accept for as long as he heads the party the right of the community to perform circumcision and religious slaughter and to “look in to” a new proposal to make studying a foreign language in primary school compulsory from next year (currently Hebrew is not one of seven designated languages).

Miliband said after the event: “It was a great privilege to
address the Board of Deputies at the Jewish News-sponsored event and have the opportunity to answer questions on a range of subjects. I’d like to thank everyone who took part.”

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Coalition Marks ‘Direction Change’ for Israeli Politics

As the Jewish News went to press, Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners were putting the finishing touches to an agreement. The prime minister will form a government with his two likeliest partners – the centrist Yesh Atid led by former journalist Yair Lapid and the religious-nationalist Jewish Home, led by former commando and high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett. They carry 19 and 12 Knesset seats respectively.

And, after decades as kingmakers, the ultra-Orthodox finally look to have been pushed from power. The last-minute deal was struck only two days before the expiry of a deadline extension, and just a week ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit.

Netanyahu will remain PM. His 31-seat Likud-Beitenu will also take the Interior and Defence ministries, while the post of Foreign Minister is being reserved for Avigdor Lieberman, pending the outcome of his trial.

Newcomer Lapid looks set to take on the mantle of Finance Minister, with Bennett taking Industry and Trade. Meanwhile, Yesh Atid’s Shai Piron is slated to be Education Minister – a hotly contested position during negotiations.

A statement released by BICOM on Wednesday evening stated: “The new government marks a significant change of direction for Israeli politics, with the exclusion of the ultra-Orthodox parties and the entry of a range of disparate parties who agree on ending ultra-Orthodox exemption from national service and a better deal for the middle class.”

Prior to Wednesday’s late-night handshakes, Netanyahu had already attracted Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister whose new party’s main policy is to cut a deal with the Palestinians. She becomes Justice Minister and is to take head a new team charged with reinvigorating the peace talks. With time running out, tensions between the potential partners had been rising, with misgivings aired in public. Netanyahu had earlier blasted both Bennett and Lapid for working together to “boycott” the ultra-Orthodox parties, a claim the pair rejected.

Meanwhile, the ultra–Orthodox parties – edged out of government for the first time in decades – reacted angrily to the news. Shas leader Arieh Deri attacked Netanyahu, saying: “History will judge sternly the person who lent his hand to this situation. Your excuses will not survive its strict scrutiny.”

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We Team Up With Tzedek To Help Fight Poverty

The initiative follows an investigation last week into the provision of food, shelter and advice to homeless Jews in London, an exposure that has subsequently led to a large number of Jewish News readers making individual pledges of support over the past few days.

Tzedek, which focuses on fighting poverty, is one of 33 national charities supporting the international Live Below The Line campaign, which challenges participants to live on &£1 a day for five days, to get a sense of the experience felt by 1.4billion people around the world.

Tzedek’s chief executive Jude Williams said: “We are very excited to have the Jewish News as our official media partner for the Live Below the Line fundraising campaign. The Jewish News offers us the chance to spread the word about this worthwhile campaign and recruit participants from throughout the British Jewish community, giving them a window into the day-to-day lives of people living in extreme poverty, while raising vital funds for our fight against global hunger.”

Jewish News editor Richard Ferrer said: “After focusing on the hidden plight of Jews in London struggling to make ends meet, this is a timely opportunity to highlight the issue of poverty by involving Londoners in a simple idea – living on next to nothing. We’ve noticed how the wider community seems to feel removed from – and ignorant of – the poorest among us, so Live Below The Line helps us all to relate to these difficulties – if only for five days.”

More than 20,000 people across three continents are planning to spend a week living below the extreme poverty line – defined by the World Bank using Purchasing Power Parity as $1.25 US dollars a day in 2005.
Converting this to the 2005 equivalent for the UK and adjusting for inflation, the extreme poverty line would be £1.

Over the coming weeks, the Jewish News will feature a series of opinion pieces and case studies, detailing the impact of poverty and the practical action that can be taken by us all to alleviate these issues.

Find out more at www.livebelowtheline.org.uk

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‘This Place Is A Life-Saver’ London’s Only Kosher Soup Kitchen

That’s important, he says, because those who come here should feel they’re eating kosher and eating well. They should also feel welcome – this place should be like a home to them, he says, with conversation and comfort, not questions and judgement.

“I don’t ask,” says Kahan. “If you knock on my door you’re welcome to come in.”

Those principles have guided the Beit Hatabshil soup kitchen for a decade now, with the project ten years old this month. They started out above the Shell garage in Golders Green, remembers Kahan, before moving to Brent Street three years ago. If he’s proud that he feeds hundreds of breadline Jews every week, he doesn’t show it.

“It’s a life-saver,” explains David, a softly-spoken man whose giant coat disguises a worryingly thin frame. “I don’t know what I’d do without it. In fact, I don’t even want to think what I’d do without it.”

Sunlight streams through the window, warming our backs, spot-lighting the coffee’s steam. It’s deceiving. With a strong headwind, it’s bitterly cold outside, the icy temperatures having cut through my coat an hour earlier.

Inside, hot omelettes are working wonders, but the respite is temporary. After David’s eaten and left, Kahan beckons me over to the window, points to a roadside bench and whispers. That’s where David sleeps.

“Others sleep inside,” Kahan confides. “We found Chaim at Heathrow,” he says, nodding in the direction of a white-haired elderly gentleman.

To some of London’s Jews, Kahan – known as Sam – is “like a father and mother” who provides more than just two good meals a day.

“I didn’t come for many weeks,” reads an anonymous entry in the visitors’ book. “Sam made calls and found me because he was concerned. I was in hospital.” The entry stops there, explaining neither why Sam’s call was important nor why the author felt moved to record it. There’s no need.

“All kinds of Jews come here,” says Brooklyn-born Sam. “Chasidic, modern Orthodox, non-observant, all kinds. Women come too. Often the women are bashful and come just to collect food, at a different time of day, when nobody else is here. Others we deliver to. We feed hundreds a week.”

He continues: “Some who visit I don’t know their names, just their faces. I don’t ask who they are or why they need help. They need to come, that’s enough. They come from as far as Cricklewood, Golders Green, Finchley and Stamford Hill. We don’t advertise we’re here, but all who need to know about us do. For many it’s their only home, for others it’s a home from home. It’s not just about the food. We have facilities for a hot bath for example. People come for different reasons.”

Sat around the table, each of us at various stages of breakfast and stories, conversation and social interaction seems one such reason. Discussion between Sam, Chaim, Melvyn, David, Harold, Zev and others fluctuates between English and Hebrew, always jovial, animated and warm, ranging from the biblical basis of Purim to an account of trudging through Welsh swampland last month.

I ask the young man later how he found himself in a swamp. “You have to go that way to stop the drug addicts following you back,” he says with a shrug.

On funding, he says he’s struggling. “We’re meeting only 60% of our costs. Kosher meat is expensive, and we need more space. I have suppliers with patience, but not forever. I go with my hand out, but it’s difficult.”

In the background, Sam makes sure everyone is provided for. He is the innocuous centre of the operation, asking someone about their application for housing benefit (the group overhears and offers advice), encouraging another to go to library (“cold days are good days to read”), and joking with a tall Chasidic man in Hebrew.

Freeze the scene and you’d think nothing of it – an image of friends sat around a breakfast table perhaps. But amidst the talk and chatter, Sam quietly tells me the story behind the scene. He’s bought much of the clothing being worn around the table, gone out in the morning to pick some of these men off park benches, and arranged hostel accommodation for the others.

This poverty, it seems, is little-noticed by London’s Jewish community. Indeed, seeing it up close is a strange experience. Here, in the middle of Hendon, talking about Barack Obama over a coffee with London Jews, I need reminding that some here have nothing, that some here slept under the stars last night, and that – were it not for Sam’s free food – most here would have few other options.

“There are so many Jewish charities,” says Sam. “We help so many people, but this is the only place in London for these men and women. I don’t think many people know there is a need.”

Back at the office, it seems he’s right, as colleagues react in the same quizzical way: “Jews? Homeless Jews? In London?”

Sam can be contacted on 07837997208.

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