Take one Jewish soul
Marinate in darkness,
Add a drop of light.
This is a poem by Rivka Glick entitled Recipe1. In one compressed stanza she sums up a lifetime of experience for the typical Diaspora Jew of the 20th and 21st centuries: murdered for who we are, having to have a suitcase packed just in case, hounded out of Europe (then and now), and most recently accused – after 350 years of contribution to this country – by the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, of not having a sense of English irony.
I am not sure about English irony. In a recent international symposium on humour, we Jews came out top, followed by Hungary. I must say, speaking as a first-generation English person of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor parentage, that the Hungarian Jews are a jolly lot (and their goulash is out of this world) but 'English irony' in the mouth of the likes of Jeremy Corbyn is more like hypocrisy most of the time.
And this is actually what the prophet Isaiah is telling us Jews at this time of year. During this warm-up period culminating in Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world which ushers in Jewish New Year, Isaiah's wonderful chapter 60, to be read in Shul on Shabbat, must be one of the most famous and beloved biblical passages ever:
'Arise, shine, for your light has come. And the glory of the Lord has shined upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and dense cloud the [other] peoples, but upon you will the Lord shine and his glory will be seen upon you.'
This is of course much better in the original Hebrew – every translation diminishes. But G-d addresses the Jewish people in the feminine, thus rendering the verses especially relevant to us women.
This has been a dreadful year for the Jewish community of the UK, the culmination of decades of hatred experienced from the institutions of this country, be it academia, the churches, the unions, the hard left media and now bursting open in the person of the Leader of the Opposition and his supporters.
However, there really is a light at the end of the tunnel. We have had Prince William visiting the State of Israel, laughing and joking with Israelis of every background in an impromptu walkabout in Tel Aviv's main street. William is the same age as the average person in Tel Aviv and his visit, plus the way he comes across as a person, augurs well for the future. On the whole Jews are less than positive about royalty – there is only one monarch for us, and he is invisible, although often experienced. But some of the words used by William on his trip appeared to be heart-felt. You got the feeling that he really did care about the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Israel can look after herself – Isaiah says as much in his grand and ecstatic vision for the future of our people and our Land. It is the UK, and especially England, that seems to be floundering at present.
What can we remaining Anglo Jews, some of us with dual nationality, do for the country of our birth to help get her back on track again, without ourselves falling under? There appears to be a clue in our chapter. Still addressing the Jewish people in the feminine, G-d says: 'Lift your eyes about you and see. All of them are gathered and will come to you... Then you will see and be radiant. Your heart will be both anxious and expansive, for the affluence of the West shall be turned over to you and the wealth of nations shall come to you.'
If the last part of this quote is familiar, so it should be. It is the title of the famous book written in 1776 by one of the world's first economists, the Scot, Adam Smith.
The book lays out a philosophy of checks and balances and mutual self-help. And although obviously dated, it is interesting that Smith deliberately chose the title from one of the most poignantly beautiful passages in the Bible.
When a people loses its sense of nationhood, which England has been doing for at least 25 years, then the result is often the worst kind of entryism. This is what we see now, with the hard Left and the neo-Nazi Right of this country joining hands to pick on the smallest and least obtrusive part of the population – yes, us Jews, who make up a truly massive 0.3 per cent of the population. Globally, we only make up 0.2 per cent of the world population. Perhaps Corbyn feels that if 0.1 per cent of us were to leave, this would tilt the balance a bit more.
The problem is, most of that 0.1 per cent would leave for the one place we can really call 'home' – the State of Israel. This move would undoubtedly bring great benefits to the one Jewish country in the world, but is probably not at all what the hard Left and the neo-Nazis have in mind, given their express views on the Zionism which is as much as part of our own Jewish faith as Jesus is for the Church.
Let's finish on a high and hear the glorious sounds of next week's Haftorah passage as interpreted by Handel. Handel lived from 1685-1759 and spent most of his adult life in England, where he was supported in his work by Jewish philanthropists. The vast proportion of Handel's oratorios are devoted to specifically Jewish biblical subjects.
Adam Smith would have been aware of Handel's oratorio when, in his tribute to what the Jewish Bible has to offer, he entitled his economic masterpiece, The Wealth of Nations.
1 'Heartbeats II: Jewish writers at their best', edited by Shoshana Lepon, 2003, published Targum Press, distributed by Feldheim Publishers.
Dr Irene Lancaster is a Jewish academic, author and translator who has established university courses on Jewish history, Jewish studies and the Hebrew Bible.