JEWDAS give their right of reply:
“We are a group of British Jews who are deeply proud of being Jewish. We have always put humour and satire at the heart of what we do – because, frankly, politics and religion are far too dull otherwise. But don’t be mistaken: we are completely serious about what we do.
Since 2005, we have attempted to build a community based around activist, socialist and diasporist Judaism in the UK. While most of us are also active in our local synagogues and other Jewish cultural organisations, only together have we felt able to build the kind of freethinking, traditionally radical Judaism that is needed in the 21st century.
Over those 13 years we have held many events. We have hosted Rootless Cosmopolitan Yeshivas, and Jewish study nights, where participants learn about Talmud, philosophy, and Jewish poetry. We organised the East London Sukkah – a week-long festival in Hackney City Farm, packed with music, film and interfaith events. We coordinated a film festival at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, showcasing a documentary about the long tradition of Jewish socialist and anarchist activism.
We organised a concert of classical Judeo-Arabic music in a synagogue, harking back to a rich tradition of Jewish-Islamic co-operation. We have regularly called out, condemned and marched against neo-fascists, such as when far-right groups attempted to demonstrate in Stamford Hill and Golders Green. We have regularly spoken out against antisemitism on both the right and the left. We organise Friday night dinners, festival gatherings and community celebrations.
We created the organisation Babel’s Blessing – a radical language school that teaches diaspora languages and uses the profits to offer free English classes to migrants in the UK. And we have organised a large number of life-affirming and deeply Jewish parties attended by hundreds of young Jews and their friends – from the legendary Punk Purim in 2005, to our most recent Purim Queer Cabaret, only a month ago.
Many young Jews have told us that without our activities they would have left Judaism altogether, dismayed by strands in the Jewish world which grow ever more rightwing, closed-minded, and nationalistic.
We are one chain in a long historical tradition of radical Judaism, both in Britain and abroad. We particularly celebrate the heritage of the Jewish Labour Bund, the great Jewish socialist organisation that had a huge following in Russia and eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Last night we paid tribute to an old Bundist friend – Chaim Neslen – who died only days ago. We hope to uphold the traditions that Chaim and others built.
One event that we organise every year is a Passover seder, demonstrating the importance this Jewish holiday has for all of us. We have always tried to blend traditional rituals with radical commentaries, following the traditions and practices of progressive Jews for well over 100 years. A socialist understanding of the seder is deeply in keeping with the traditional texts that we read, particularly the famous Aramaic declaration Ha Lachma Anya: “This is the bread of oppression that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need come and share our Passover”.
Initially small-scale private events, these have grown every year as more people wanted to come, attracted by the joyful atmosphere, warm community and serious religious and cultural reflection. Around 100 people attended this year, almost all of them Jewish.
When this year a friend and constituent of Jeremy Corbyn invited him to attend, he accepted the invitation. He came, bringing horseradish from his own allotment for use on the communal seder plate (the horseradish symbolises the bitterness the Israelites experienced as slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt). He sat attentively through a four-hour event, agreeing gamely to read the Elijah’s cup section when asked. He participated fully, and chatted afterwards to many attendees. We were very happy to have him as a guest, and he was happy to join us.
In a normal situation, you might think that the leader of the opposition attending a seder with a group of 100 young, committed Jews might be a simple good news story. But if you’re determined to brand Jeremy Corbyn an antisemite, it seems that literally any story will do.
We have grown used to being smeared as self-hating Jews. But labelling us a source of “virulent antisemitism” as the Board of Deputies leader, Jonathan Arkush, did today is seriously scraping the barrel. The truth is, we love Judaism and Jewish culture, as every one of our events demonstrates.
The idea that there is a “mainstream Jewish community” is a fiction, promoted by a group of self-selecting individuals and institutions who have run out of ideas. There are approximately 300,000 Jews in Britain, with a huge diversity of religious and political ideas represented among them.
No single organisation can speak for us all. To claim that we in Jewdas are somehow not real Jews is offensive, and frankly antisemitic. Chag Sameach to everyone – wishing you all a happy Passover. May we use this festival to liberate ourselves from all oppression and stand up for justice everywhere.