What does it mean to be both British and Jewish?

What does it mean to be both British and Jewish and how has this identity evolved over hundreds of years of Jewish settlement in the UK?

This question is being posed at a five-day seminar on Jewish identity at the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC) in Golders Green which runs until Friday (August 24).

Titled From Poland to Polo in Three Generations? the event will probe the historical, religious and cultural changes within Britain’s Jewish community.

The title is taken from the journey of one family, the Gershons, whose patriarch, Gershon Duplinsky, was born in Poland in 1880 and settled in London a decade later. His great grandson, Monty Gershon, is now a member of the exclusive Guards polo club at Windsor.

“The seminars are about posing questions. I don’t think we are going to get answers. There are many opinions,” said LJCC education director Trudy Gold, who is among the speakers.


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“The main aim is to make people look at the changing face of Jewish identity. We are going to sit down for four days and discuss what it’s like to be a Jew.”

Ms Gold says Jewish identity has evolved hugely since Jews first started arriving in the UK. While in the 19th century, Jewish people wanted to be as English as possible, today, she says, Jews have carved out their own cultural heritage and “don’t want to belong to an English gentleman’s club”.

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“Forty years ago we did not have a strong Jewish identity or culture. Now there’s a Jewish art gallery, film and food festivals.”

She believes a key turning point was the Second World War when Jewish people were persecuted and killed by the Nazis despite being integrated into their respective societies.

Betrayal

The betrayal of the Holocaust made Jews question their identity. Ms Gold also believes that Israel is “a huge factor” in reshaping Jewish identity.

“In 1967, when there was a news blackout, there was an incredible upsurge in support for Israel,” she said.

Overall she hails the evolution of Jewish identity as a positive thing: “I think being strong in an identity makes you self-assured without being arrogant. It helps make people rub along.”

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