Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Tory and the Communist


Indulge me a ramble through childhood memories.

When I was a kid my uncle, an Orthodox Jew, fan of Mrs Thatcher and an activist in the Campaign for Soviet Jewry, and one of his best friends, a card carrying member of the British Communist Party and secular humanist, would always greet each other thus, if you'll excuse the post-Holocaust Jewish black humour "We may disagree on almost everything, but if and when they round up the Jews again, they'll put us side by side against the wall to be shot".

The message was clear, their politics were polar opposite from each other, but they still knew they were brothers and they knew full well that only a few decades earlier Jews of every kind regardless of religious or political affiliation had been slaughtered wholesale simply because they were Jews.

It was a very powerful message to grow-up with.

At Shabbat or Sunday tea time in our home you could find trades union activists and city gents, Zionists, internationalists, fans of Mr Begin and supporters of Shulamit Aloni, Hassidim, dyed in the wool British "establishment" Jews who's ancestors had come over in the 17th century, veterans of WWs I and II, Jews who'd fled Iraq, Germany, Iran, the USSR, Poland, Pakistan, Egypt and Aden, lots and lots of teachers and academics, members of the British Conservative, Labour, Communist and Liberal Democratic parties, the odd Likud member and on one occasion Labour MK Avrum Burg.

Many were Orthodox Jews, many were not, some were the very proper British Anglican retirees from the top of the street, or the Pakistani Muslim neighbours from across the road who's grandmother liked to practise her English and swap recipes with my Bubbe, the family of Lithuanian dissidents who were terrified that the KGB were after them, or the Cypriot Christian couple from round the corner who came especially for my grandmother's rogelakh and cinnamon-raisin kikhelakh.

The biggest lesson I learnt from all this was that people do not fit in to neat boxes, right or left, black or white, positive or negative. Or rather that there good be people who were absolute evil, but those were thankfully rare, and the vast majority were far more complex than that, and that most were fundamentally decent people trying to figure out what was good and just in a turbulent world. The fact that many reached opposing conclusions on this did not negate their humanity or their decency.

It seems trite to have to say this, but it is one of the most valuable life lessons I ever learnt from my family, that you can be resolute in your own opinions, ideals and values, and yet have a home which is open to those who disagree with you, are diametrically opposed to you, are completely and utterly different from you. You can share afternoon tea and biscuits while have a civil but heated debate about everything under the sun. And you can still be friends and neighbours when you've agreed to disagree.

Just because this is a cliche does not make it less true.