There used to be a time when, after a service in my synagogue in Maidenhead, my congregants would come up and ask me seemingly trivial questions, such as whether Jews can have tattoos.
But in recent months, their concerns have been of a more urgent, personal nature: ‘Will we be safe?’
They are, of course, referring to the terrifying stench of anti-Semitism.
And its origin is the disturbing possibility that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party may win the election, or at least secure enough seats to form a governing coalition with the Scottish Nationalists.
For those of us in the Jewish community, it is a deeply worrying prospect. Indeed, I believe that Corbyn poses such a threat to Britain’s Jews that it is incumbent on all Jewish leaders to speak out.
Indeed, I believe that Corbyn (pictured with John McDonnell) poses such a threat to Britain’s Jews that it is incumbent on all Jewish leaders to speak out
I have never written an article like this before. In the past, I — along with most other clergy of all faiths — have avoided being party political. We may have tackled issues such as poverty or homelessness, but we have never been in the business of taking sides.
But this week — after Corbyn’s right-hand man, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, spuriously declared that Labour has been ‘rapid and at times ruthless’ in stamping out anti-Semitism — I decided that I could no longer keep silent.
And I am not the only one. This week, two other senior rabbis have also spoken out, while Britain’s leading Jewish newspaper, The Jewish Chronicle, bravely published a front page editorial urging voters to shun Labour.
Rabbi Jonathan Romain (pictured) makes a heartfelt plea not to put ‘the man that would poison Britain’ in No10
And so, for the first time ever, I have emailed everyone in my community — which covers a wide area, including Labour constituencies such as Reading and Slough — about the election.
I told them that the threat of Corbyn is such that they should put aside all other considerations and vote for whichever party is most likely to defeat Labour in their constituency — even if they would never normally vote for that party.
Despite the fact that many in my congregation have been life-long Labour supporters, my intervention did not come as a surprise.
Few can be blind to the fact that, if Corbyn gets into No 10, we will have a Prime Minister who is at worst anti-Semitic, and at best content to tolerate anti-Semitic behaviour.
I do not exaggerate when I say that, in my congregation, elderly worshippers are questioning why they bothered to fight Hitler, only for the country they were defending to one day be governed by people, some of whom, while definitely not Nazis, allow anti-Semitism to fester at the heart of their party.
Our younger members, meanwhile, whose knowledge of anti-Semitism has come from history books, are suddenly feeling its icy grip for the first time in their lives.
How naïve I was to think that my generation would be the last to have its childhoods blighted by this oldest of hatreds.
One of my earliest memories is of my mother showing me a photo album of her as a child in Germany in the Thirties. When she pointed to pictures of her aunts, uncles and cousins, I blurted out: ‘But I have never met them!’
‘No’, she said, ‘and you never will,’ and closed the book without saying another word.
For me, the bitter truth about Corbyn’s own anti-Semitism was made clear for all to see last year, when he waded into a discussion about a grotesque mural that had appeared in East London (pictured), depicting rich Jewish financiers playing a Monopoly-style board game which rested on the backs of naked downtrodden workers
It was only years later that I learnt that, while my mother had been fortunate enough to escape Germany via the ‘kindertransport’ rescue operation for Jewish children, much of her family was murdered in the extermination camps.
Despite this tragic history, I have never had much cause to think my religious beliefs could imperil my safety.
Yes, there were a few idiots at school, but they shouted abuse at everyone who was the slightest bit different — regardless of whether they were Jewish, wore glasses or had freckles.
It never occurred to me that anti-Semitism might rear its ugly head once more, especially in mainstream politics.
Surely, I assumed, the centuries-old traditions of British justice and fair play meant that it was unthinkable that Jews in Britain would have anything to worry about.
And yet, the unthinkable has now happened.
What is so shocking about this possible threat to our existence is that its genesis lies in the hands of just one man: Jeremy Corbyn.
Anti-Semitism was never allowed to thrive under previous Labour leaders, be it Tony Blair on the Right or Michael Foot on the Left.
But since Corbyn’s election as leader, it has spread like a fast-growing cancer, worming its way into the very heart of Labour and infecting the rest of its body.
On a local level, his seizure of power has been followed by an influx of new activists, whose hard-Left policies came hand-in-hand with anti-Semitic outbursts. Just this week, a Labour election candidate was forced to quit in disgrace after bizarrely comparing Israel’s foreign policy to the coercive actions of a child abuser.
Meanwhile, one of my congregation, who is a member of the local Labour Party, recently told me that while he was discussing what to do with pot-holes at a meeting, he was greeted by hisses of ‘Zio’ — a derogatory reference to Zionism — by those present.
Another, this time talking about the housing crisis, was accused of ‘bagel politics’ — a disparaging reference to Jews, the people who originally ate the bread rolls — by fellow Labour council members.
In both cases, the anti-Jewish racism was plain for all to see and hear. These are hardly isolated incidents. For, throughout the Labour Party, anti-Semitism has taken hold.
Take the case of Labour MP Lisa Forbes, who was recently elected in the Peterborough by-election.
This summer, it emerged that she campaigned against Labour adopting an international definition of anti-Semitism used by all major government bodies.
Then there is Jackie Walker, a pro-Corbyn activist who claimed Jews benefited financially from the slave trade.
It was a disgraceful comment, though one that pales in comparison to Labour’s feeble response to it.
Indeed, it took three whole years of navel-gazing for the party to expel her. (For context, Tony Blair’s No 10 spin doctor Alastair Campbell was kicked out five days after he declared he would vote for the Liberal Democrats in this year’s European elections.)
It all stinks of a level of institutional anti-Semitism that hasn’t been seen in this country for decades. It also, of course, begs the question of whether Corbyn himself is an anti-Semite.
Initially, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, I thought, he wasn’t aware of what was going on or was too busy restructuring the party to notice.
But as the crescendo of complaints grew, he simply stuck his fingers in his ears.
As you can imagine, it came as little surprise when Labour’s own ‘official’ inquiry into anti-Semitism in 2016 yielded the astounding conclusion that the party was not ‘overrun by anti-Semitism’.
So, after Corbyn’s repeated reassurances that anti-Semitism wasn’t a problem in his party, how could we have expected any other result?
For me, the bitter truth about Corbyn’s own anti-Semitism was made clear for all to see last year, when he waded into a discussion about a grotesque mural that had appeared in East London, depicting rich Jewish financiers playing a Monopoly-style board game which rested on the backs of naked downtrodden workers.
Although the image could have been plucked from the hate-filled Nazi weekly Der Sturmer, any doubts about its bigoted message were confirmed when its creator, Mear One, later boasted that ‘some of the older white Jewish folk in the local community had an issue with me portraying their beloved Rothschild or Warburg etc as the demons they are’.
And yet Corbyn — who later said he hadn’t seen the mural — argued against its removal on the grounds of freedom of speech.
From that moment on, Corbyn’s own anti-Jewish prejudice became clear for all to see.
A few months later, this paper published a photo on its front page of Corbyn holding a wreath just a few feet from the graves of Palestinian terrorists who masterminded the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1971 Munich Olympics.
It has, of course, come to light that Corbyn also praised Hamas as ‘his brothers’ and described Hezbollah as ‘his friends’ — somehow forgetting that these terrorists are determined to wipe every Jew off the planet.
And this is what rightly worries so many people outside of the Jewish community, too: if Corbyn shows such poor judgement on this issue, how else might his judgement also be impaired?
This is prescient because Jews have often served as the political equivalent of the ‘canary in the mine’, and a party’s attitude to minorities tends to be a reliable barometer as to its moral health in general.
In fairness, I should point out that there has been a spike in attacks on Jews across Europe, many of which have been perpetrated by far-Right extremists and white supremacists.
It is also true that other British political parties have their failings.
But once a problem is identified, such as the Conservatives’ botched response to the Windrush scandal that saw British subjects wrongly detained and even deported, they tend to sort it out, whether with a change of tack or the resignation of a problematic figure.
(Following the Windrush scandal, then Home Secretary Amber Rudd stood down.)
This is where Labour under Corbyn differs.
Accusations of anti-Semitism were first called out nearly four years ago and still have not been addressed properly. This is, for example, a party that received 673 complaints of anti-Semitism in just ten months, but expelled only 12 members.
That implies either indifference or poor leadership.
Neither is good.
One final revelatory moment came this summer when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into ‘allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party’.
Bearing in mind that the Commission is often perceived as a Left-leaning body, and that it sets a very high bar for evidence before it takes on a case, this is an astonishing indictment.
Britain is standing at a crossroads. Yes, this election will be about Brexit, the NHS and climate change.
But towering above them is something far more urgent: the very soul of British life and its sense of tolerance and fair play.
The choice you face is simple. We must not let Corbyn’s Labour Party poison the values of this great country.