Britain’s Jews: Confidence, Maturity, Anxiety by Harry Freedman
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As a minority, Jews in Britain are confident, their institutions competent and mature. And yet within Jewish life in Britain there is a pervading sense of anxiety.
Jews in Britain have risen to the top of nearly every profession, they run major companies, sit at the top tables in politics, make their voices heard in the media, are prominent in science and the arts. Of course there is serious poverty and gross disadvantage, just as there is in any community. But on any objective measure, British Jews have done well. Particularly when we consider where they came from, the impoverished, often oppressed lives that many Jews lived in Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire less than 200 years ago.
Jews have lived in Britain longer than any other minority. They’ve been here so long, and are so ingrained into the national fabric, that they are often not considered to be a minority at all. Until a periodic outburst of antisemitism or a flare up in the Middle East, or both, turns the spotlight on them once again.
British Jews have another distinction too. They have lived safely and securely, continuously, in Britain longer than any other modern Jewish community has lived anywhere else in the world. They have organised themselves in a way that serves as a model both to more recent immigrant communities in Britain and to Jewish communities elsewhere. Being British, they wear their distinctions lightly, they don’t trumpet their achievements, in fact they rarely make a noise at all. But they give back quietly: established Jewish organisations help more recently arrived minorities to create their own structures, charities draw on the Jewish experience of dislocation and persecution to help oppressed people in the developing world, philanthropists support causes far beyond the boundaries of their own communities.
Britain’s Jews is a challenging look at Jewish life in the UK today. Based on conversations with Jews from all walks of life, it depicts, in ways that are at times disturbing, at other times inspiring, what it is like to be Jewish in 21st century Britain. And why Jewish life is still a subject of fascination.
Year first published: 2023