A rabbi who runs a neighbourhood watch has warned Britain’s antisemitism problem is “dire” and a ranks as a “bad time” for the country’s Jewish communities.
Herschel Gluck, who co-ordinates the Shomrim Jewish volunteer community safety group in north-east London, said society needs to acknowledge the problem in order to stop it.
The lastest figures from Community Security Trust, a charity protecting British Jews from attacks, show there were 892 antisemitic incidents recorded in January - June 2019, the highest it has ever recorded for the first six months of a year.
Last year, Labour became the second political party after the British National Party to be investigated for antisemitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Rabbi Gluck’s comments come after a spike in antisemitic attacks in north London during the past few weeks, with Shomrim reporting nine between 26 December and 5 January in Stamford Hill alone. That period of time includes Hanukkah.
“People should be able to get on with their lives without fear, without apprehension, without feeling scared, without feeling discriminated against in society,” Rabbi Gluck told Yahoo News UK.
“(We are) certainly in a bad time. I don’t want to over-egg it, this isn’t in any way comparable to the 1930s or 1920s, but I don’t think we need to go there in order to define what is happening now.
“We have to look at the situation and the situation is dire. It needs thoughtful and urgent action to be taken to stop this type of behaviour.”
The antisemitic attacks in Stamford Hill include a report of a boy who was allegedly punched while the attacker shouted “you stupid Jews think you own the world”.
Elsewhere in north London, graffiti of an untrue antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews were somehow behind the 9/11 attacks was sprayed onto a synagogue over the Christmas break.
He said the antisemitic acts have been caused by primarily “disaffected young people who feel their voices are not being heard” who are “on the periphery of society”.
“And they are, sadly, lashing out at people who live close to them, who are in no way responsible for their predicament, and who they feel are easy targets.
“We need to help these people and help the communities from which they come. This will also contribute towards ending this type of behaviour.”
That is not to justify their behaviour, he added, but he said it is important to understand the causes to deal with antisemitism.
But ultimately, he said, anyone from “all backgrounds, all classes... all levels of cultural affinity” can hold anti-Jewish views.
“Society needs to ask itself why are we behaving in such a manner and how can we stop the rot of this type of behaviour... a crime that led within living memory to over six million Jews being murdered, including my grandparents, and over 100 members of my mother’s family.”
Shops in the Belsize Park area have also been targeted, and Rabbi Gluck said there are worries in the Jewish communities.
“(That is) both because of incidents that have happened here and including those that have happened in the US in Jersey City and Monsey.
“And don’t forget this is a community where many people have direct memory of the holocaust or family, including close family members, murdered in the holocaust, so this all feeds in to a raised awareness.
“Thank God, people are continuing with their lives in a normal manner, people are certainly not leaving or locking themselves in their homes but at the same time this is something that needs to be addressed and we need to be aware that extra security needs to be engaged.”
Rabbi Gluck believes that without Shomrim – which takes its name from the Hebrew word for “guardian” – antisemitic attacks would be more prevalent and worse.
Shomrim North East is the area’s branch of the international initiative which was set up in New York in response to violence there against Jews in the 1970s.
It takes the form of an enhanced community watch group, patrolling areas with its volunteers wearing a uniform and calling in the police when they encounter or receive reports of crimes.
But Rabbi Gluck is keen to emphasise it helps all communities, not only the Jewish ones.
He said that about 70% of crimes Shomrim covered last year helped people from outside the Jewish community.
Rabbi Gluck said preventing antisemitism is “not the raison d’etre of the organisation _ the raison d’etre of the organisation is to stop crime, and if a crime happens to deal with it and make sure the crime doesn’t happen”.
“I think that it has to be taken seriously by society, not (an attitude of) doing the Jews a favour, not ‘oh, this is something we’ve got to do for the Jewish community’, no,” Rabbi Gluck said of stopping antisemitism.
“The Jewish community is an integral part of British society and should be viewed and treated as such.”
Intelligence-led policing also comes into the equation, Rabbi Gluck said.
But sometimes a conversation can change a bigot’s mind entirely.
Recalling an incident some years ago, Rabbi Gluck said he was walking along Stoke Newington Common when young people aged 15 or 16 were playing football.
They kicked the ball out of play, and as he went to kick it back to them, one of the teenagers made an antisemitic remark.
“So I went up to him, put my hand on his shoulder and said to him, ‘why did you say that?’” Rabbi Gluck said.
“So he said: ‘Because the Jews hate us.’ So I looked at him and said: ‘Do you think I hate you?’
“He said no, and his whole attitude changed.
“From then on he became my best friend, whenever he had a problem he came to me for advice and he grew up a very nice person.”
The Metropolitan Police made arrests for some of the incidents Shomrim reported over the new year period and Hanukkah.