Photo: Mati Milstein
Question - what is the connection between (a) the Ichilov Hospital, (b) 2 Simtat Hamaalot in Ramat Gan, and (c) 18 Café Britannias around Israel.
Answer – they all help me answer the question of how I respond to the legacy of the Nazis.
(A) At five minutes to midnight last Wednesday, our second daughter was born, in the maternity ward at the Ichilov hospital. Just like her sister Rachel two years earlier.
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We wanted them to be born in Israel. Their passport will always announce that their coming into the world was here. They will always be our ‘sabras.’
It is important to me that Rachel and Emily should feel Jewish, and should in turn want to pass this on to their children. At Cambridge studying theology I read about how Jewish thinkers made sense of the Shoah. There were those, like my grandfather, who were so angry that they turned their backs on religion and God, because they felt the Covenant had been broken. There were others who said that Judaism should carry on as if nothing had happened – the law was still the same law, the Mitzvot were still the same Mitzvot, the Covenant was unchanged.
But the response I loved was the one that said there was now a new commandment, a 614th Mitzvah – thou shalt survive. Because through surviving we defeat the ideology of the Nazis, and deny them a posthumous victory. In the shadow of the Shoah, passing our identity to our children as Jews becomes an even greater responsibility.
We must never let the Nazis define us, or provide the foundation on which our Jewish identity and pride is based. But for me, Rachel and Emily growing up as proud Jews would have been the consolation I would have given my grandfather, who mourned his lost brothers and sisters until the day he died.
(B) 2 Simtat Hamaalot has always been the Residence of the British Ambassador in Israel. For the first time, there are now mezuzot on the doors. I take pride in being the first Jew to be the British ambassador here – to be the representative of Britain, the country that gave my grandfather shelter, to Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people.
I thought hard before applying for this job. I was worried that being Jewish would make it impossible – that Israel’s critics would question my loyalty to Britain. But then I understood that if people had a problem with my Jewishness it was their problem rather than mine. I would apply for the job, and do it unapologetically – as a proud British citizen, and as a proud Jew who wants the best for Israel, determined in the belief that there was no contradiction between the two.
The more I do this job, the more clearly I can see that there is no contradiction. Because the Nazis lost, and we won, and in the modern world, everyone has more than a single identity. I am proudly British; I am proudly Jewish; I am loyal to my country; I care deeply about Israel; I believe in Western, liberal values; I love London, the city of my birth; I have an affection for Cambridge, where I went to university; I am European; I believe in Britain’s alliance with America. The days of a single identity are over.
(C) When we got to Israel we made an appeal to the British Jewish community, to raise money for Holocaust survivors here. We wanted to do something to ease the loneliness from which so many of them suffer. We have now raised $2M, and – in partnership with the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Survivors, the Joint, and the Ministry of Welfare - are setting up a network of 18 Café Britannias around Israel. Seven of them have already opened. These will be social clubs for Holocaust Survivors, safe and sympathetic places they can go, to access activities and services, to find friendship and respect. Survivors of the Shoah deserve to live in dignity, comfort and respect. That too is an answer, subtle yet eloquent, to the ideology of the Nazis.
- Matthew Gould is Britain's ambassador to Israel