From a talk by Fiona Frank

The Holocaust was an extreme example of dividing people and breeding hatred between peoples who should be natural allies against oppressive governments and oppressive economic and judicial systems. There are so many examples of ‘righteous gentiles’ that we can be assured that the strategy isn’t always successful. In turn many Jewish people in South Africa stood up against apartheid and the system of dividing peoples and creating hate and mistrust and inequalities between different peoples. 

Last week in Texas we saw a situation where a Muslim man who came from less than forty miles from this place took Jews hostage while they were at their local synagogue, at a Shabbat morning service. 

The Jewish people were all able to escape after a ten hour stand off – the hostage taker was shot and killed by the security services.   

We all know those facts. 

I’m on WhatsApp groups with many of the Jewish community in Preston – just down the road from Blackburn and what we saw immediately on there was fear – people being afraid that Muslim groups very near to us are being encouraged in antisemitism. And the Community Security Trust which helps to provide security for the Jewish community said that it had had calls from several worried Jewish people in Preston and Blackpool. Their advice is that they do not have the resources to attempt to provide for our security. They advise us to withdraw immediately from all communal involvement where there is a risk of conflict on any level”. And at the same time as reading this I asked Kathryn to inform the local police about this HMD event. 

But – Islamophobia is not an antidote to antisemitism and is again a false way of dividing peoples who should be allies. 

Jeremy Dable from Preston’s Jewish community was invited by the BBC to speak with Sayma Afzal from Blackburn, part of Blackburn’s Muslim community. They had a 40 minute conversation and five minutes of it were featured on BBC Radio 4 this morning. He talked to her about his fear when he heard what had happened – and she talked about how she felt when she had heard the news – she doesn’t want the whole community to be tarred by this one act. She realised how important it was to have dialogue across the communities – and the two of them were much heartened by their conversation and are going to continue this links. 

In Lancaster the Jewish and Muslim communities have long standing links through the Communities Together group which has been run by the City Council for over ten years. I wrote to that group immediately after the event because I realised the the Muslim community would be as affected by last week’s incident as we were, and wanted to reach out to them as Jews and remind us all that we have more that unites us than divides us. 

We had three very appreciative responses from Muslim leaders and I’ll finish with this one response from Khaldoun Jayousi:

Dear Fiona & Colleague members of the communities together group;

I would like to firstly, commend all the good work you all in this group do to build bridges between all our different minority groups from different faiths, regions and other orientations. 

Secondly, my special and personal thanks go to Fiona and the Jewish community for their patience and dignity in dealing with the synagogue hostage taking news at Texas. It was admirable and so humane of Fiona, Naomi and Rob, to take the time and write to assure the Muslim community of their solidarity and common good of mankind.

I did forward the email to the Lancaster Islamic Society committee who in turn sent a support and thanks email in reply to Fiona. No one should suffer or be victimised for his or her faith, colour or sex. Nor should the whole faith and/or community be labelled and targeted for the criminal doing of one of its members or followers. The more we call upon our human good nature and what unites us the more our city and communities will understand and bond together more.

I thank God the Texas ordeal ended with freeing the innocent hostages safely, and pray no such incidents happen again to anyone.

A blessing of Jewish tradition is that it welcomes our questions and our wrestling… May we continue to build resilience.

I’ll finish with Jo Cox’s words again that I want us to all remember as a message from these events – “We are far more united than the things that divide us“.