‘How British Jews lost their self-confidence’; this article by Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz is part of special series on the Jewish future in Europe. It features Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, noting that she is ‘on a one-woman mission to restore that self-confidence to British Jews’.
Below is an excerpt from the piece which can be read in full with a subscription to the Haaretz website.
As a British Jew, but also as an Israeli, all this makes me very sad. This is a community that established such a well-integrated presence in a country that was not always renowned for its welcome to outsiders. A community that numbers among its sons and daughters some of the brightest, most creative and most successful artists, writers, scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators not just in Britain but in the Western world. Yet today it measures itself and its future prospects largely by the current popularity and image of Israel. It is a community that has lost its self-confidence.
If the Jews of Britain don’t realize the magnitude of their achievement, which to everyone else is blindingly obvious, then maybe there is no future for them.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is on a one-woman mission to restore that self-confidence to British Jews. In an hour-long interview on a Friday afternoon, in her small cluttered kitchen – while cooking a Shabbat meal and working on a sermon – she went some way to restoring my own confidence in them.
Even before her 2011 appointment as senior rabbi for the Movement for Reform Judaism, Janner-Klausner was on her way to becoming one of the most prominent Jewish voices in the wider British public. She is a refreshing and progressive alternative to the mellifluous and always perfectly correct tones of former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Growing up in the 1970s, her family lived with police security due to their father – British Labor Party lawmaker Greville Janner – being on various hit lists of both Palestinian terrorists and National Front fascists. So she’s no stranger to the worst threats of anti-Semitism. She is also an Israeli citizen who lived in Jerusalem for 15 years through long periods of suicide bombings.
Back in the 1970s, Janner-Klausner says, “there was an emotional containment, and now there’s a lack of containment. People are worried about anti-Semitism because they care about it – and Baruch HaShem that they care. But for the British people, with their war history, protecting Jews is important – it’s part of their sense of self. So it’s great that this on the front page of the newspapers. But it’s also a damaging narrative for us, because Jews’ daily experience is not one of physical attack. There’s a difference between unpleasant remarks and fundamentalist terror attacks. When some git sprays a swastika on a shul, it’s not an attack – he’s just being a git,” she observes.
Janner-Klausner wants British Jews to remember that “we are really blessed living here, where people are behaving so beautifully.” Both as a Brit and an Israeli, she also wishes that the members of her community were “able to understand that sometimes, though not always, criticism of Israel is just criticism of Israel. We can be proud in our lovely connection with Israel, as well as wanting Israel to be different. But we can turn around and say, ‘Netanyahu doesn’t speak for me.’”
She insists that the real threat to a Jewish future in Britain is not anti-Semitism but the same issues confronting the wider British society. “We don’t have the birthrates right now to make a vibrant community viable for another generation,” she explains. “People don’t have that many children, and women’s work patterns are horrendous. The state of British child care is such that you don’t have a sustainable, non-Haredi Jewish future.”