Emeritus Chief Rabbi: ‘Humanitarian acts strongest blows against Isis’

Professor Simon Schama in conversation with Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks at Golders Gree

Professor Simon Schama in conversation with Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks at Golders Green Synagogue. Photo: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks discusses the future of Jews in Europe with Simon Schama

The former chief rabbi has spoken in Golders Green of the need for Britain to take in Syrian refugees as a “monumental” humanitarian response to Isis cruelty.

He said that although the root of the refugee crisis would continue to be “enveloping chaos, not just in Syria and Iraq, but in ever wider spheres,” Britain needs to act.

“Humanitarian gestures are the strongest possible blows against Isis,” he said. “We know that they are small, but at the same time they are monumental.

“It means that Isis cannot continue to demonise the West.”

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks made the comments in conversation with historian Simon Schama at Golders Green Synagogue on Monday evening as part of their centenary celebrations.

While arguing that Britain could not have “completely open frontiers” Mr Schama spoke of the collective history of Jews as refugees, fleeing anti-Semitism over the centuries.

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“Remember you’re a stranger in a strange man’s land; that is deeply in the fabric of our memories,” he said.

Both speakers believe there is a future for Jews in Europe, even in the face of Islamic extremism and atrocities including January’s kosher supermarket siege in Paris.

“I don’t want it to be the beginning of the end for Jews in Europe,” Mr Schama said.

“I would rather fight anti-Semitism as adamantly as we can.”

“If it is no longer safe to be a Jew on the streets of Europe, it is no longer safe to be in Europe,” Rabbi Sacks agreed. “Non-Jews look to us for courage in the face of terror.”

Rabbi Sacks and Mr Schama both spoke optimistically about interfaith possibilities and the openness of the Muslim and Christianity faiths in Britain.

“Although Jews have enemies, we have many good friends as well,” Rabbi Sacks said.

Rabbi Sacks, who was rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue between 1978 and 1982, joked about welcoming Mr Schama as the “prodigal son” of the synagogue.

Mr Schama had his Bar Mitzvah there, having moved to Golders Green as a boy.

“There was an extremely lively, warm and, I need hardly say, quarrelsome community,” he said.