I’m no stranger to antisemitism.
Like pretty much every other Jew who has grown up in a non Jewish environment, I’ve heard my fair share of insults and accusations. Many of the antisemites I have dealt with have attempted to hide their prejudice behind the guise of “anti-Zionism”, but there was nothing hidden about the racism I had to experience last Shabbos, and none of the insults I’ve had flung at me over the years prepared me for it.
Picture this. You’re walking back from shul on a Shabbos afternoon, talking to your friend about this and that, when you start to hear chanting getting louder and louder. You’re in an orthodox Jewish neighbourhood, namely Stamford Hill, and you feel safe surrounded by hundreds of other Jews.
At least, you feel safe until you turn the corner and come face to face with a 20 strong group of protestors, shouting through a loudspeaker, spewing the most vile hatred you’ve ever heard.
“Your money won’t save you from the hell fire!” “You’re gonna go back to the gas chambers!”, “We will smash your heads in!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Every time an orthodox Jew walked past, this violent group began shouting antisemitic insults through their loudspeaker, calling Jews devils, and money worshippers, screaming about their “long noses” and saying their tzitzis would send them to hell.
The group were later identified as the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, an offshoot of the Black Hebrew Israelites: a racist and black supremacist fringe group who believe that white Jews are destined for hell.
Never before in my life have I felt so terrified by a group of people, but my friend and I stood our ground, refusing to cross the road and leave them to target other Jews. We convinced a non Jewish passerby to call the police, explaining that we could not use the telephone on Shabbos, and thought that the nightmare would come to an end.
But it only got worse. As time passed, they became more and more virulent in the minutes leading up to the arrival of the police, claiming that our attempts to stop them would send us straight to hell. When the police arrived, they stated that they were understaffed, and that the two available officers could do nothing to prevent the much larger group from spewing hatred. While they negotiated with the leader of the demonstration, my friend and I found ourselves surrounded by a sea of people – ordinary looking, well dressed citizens, who turned to us and said, “You hear them?! They’re right. You put him up on the cross and still you think you’re better than everyone else!”
A blood libel in the 21st century? I should have been more surprised, but by this point I felt I had seen everything. If violent, racist demonstrators and seemingly normal shoppers can spread hatred so freely on the streets of Stamford Hill, while policemen stood by complacently, perhaps I am no longer safe as a Jew in London.
After statements were taken by the police, and a few more curses were thrown in my direction by the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ (“Your synagogue is a home to the devil and it will burn!”), we walked home, trying desperately to make sense of what had just happened. I wasn’t sure why it had happened to me, or why the police thought it was okay. But I was sure of one thing: if the police wouldn’t fight antisemitism, then I would fight it myself, by being a prouder and more open Jew than I have ever been before.