Silence is not Golden

In 1949 I was born into the slums of the East End of London.

I was surrounded by Jews, and more Jews.

We ate hot bagels from Petticoat Lane.

We ate at Blooms’ Kosher restaurant and were allowed to skip school assemblies because we weren’t Church of England.

I felt different.

We were rehoused in Borehamwood. Living in council houses built for the scum from the slum clearance,  just a couple of miles from the swanky directors and producers who lived over the bridge in Elstree where ‘Strictly Come Dancing ‘ was to arrive 70 years later.

The primary school headmaster was anti- semitic.

My father went to see him and gave him a right hander.

I sat an entrance exam to get into a posh School. I passed.  The Jewish girls  sat alone away from the Gentiles. I lasted two years beause I argued with them and refused to take my ‘Ban the Bomb’ badge off.

I changed schools. Walking round the quadrangle for the first time I heard a boy shout

‘Here comes that fucking Jew girl.’  I was 13.

I had experienced several untold insults from the age of five. This was nothing new.

Mr. Mead, the religious instructor in my secondary school – told me in a Bible study class –  that Hitler hadn’t finished his job, he was vexed that I hadn’t been burnt in one of the ovens. I Left the classroom, my knees buckling.

I broke up fights on buses. Driving through Golders Green, past Jews going to synagogue a young father said to his son  ‘Look Hitler didn’t finish his job’. I rung the bell stopped the bus and had him removed. I was 18.

When I started on TVam I had a regular correspondent who wrote grubby postcards to me.

‘Are you a fucking Jew?

Daily postcards; ‘I’m curious to know whether you are a fucking Jew?’

But one post card to many, one question too many and I revealed his name and address. I ordered a split screen from the director.  The arseholes details on one side of the screen and a big close up of my Arab features on the otherside. ‘And I’m curious to know what a Jew looks like ‘ I said from the safety of the studio sofa. I had a lot of power,  maybe he was visited by a baseball baring vigilante because I never heard from that scumbag again. For thirty years  I was that Yid that had hidden her identity years but not anymore. I outed myself on National television.

I was not born into a religious Jewish family, I was born into a political Jewish family. My relatives had fought fascism before I was born. My father and mother marched against the black shirts. My father was a boxer and punched his way into the swarming mass of ignoramuses that hated us.

Ismail Abdel Salam Ahmed Haniyeh and Benjamin Netanyahu, have now relit the fire of antisemitism.

I was too outspoken for ITV. I was too rich meat for the BBC, not quite blonde enough for the ‘Antiques Roadshow’. I was too brash and mouthy and questioned authority  too many times. You can’t keep the old girl down. My daughter travelling on the tube, three days ago, had a Star of David golden chain round her neck, and for the first time in her life she was aware that she had come a target.

I have  muslim friends, I’m married to a Catholic. I have Christian, friends. I have black, brown, yellow friends. I like to know about their birthright, about their ancestral journey. I’m not afraid to ask them but now I’m living through a time of silence. A climate where social intercourse is being stifled. Pro Palestinians are releasing mice into restaurants, a new kind of terror. A time when speaking any kind of truth has become dangerous. I do slots on telly booked as the dissenting voice. I am the one who is considered brave enough to take on right wingers – after all it is only words. But now only words matter.  Who we call a terrorist, who we call  a freedom fighter. Who we call friends, and who we call enemies. I grew up with hatred all around me, in a ghetto where the Jews lived one  side of  The Highway and the Irish lived on the docks the other side of  The Highway. It’s all gentrified now but some of  us remember the smell of black pepper spilling out of the warehouses  and the arrival of the Bangladeshis as we Jews moved north, east and sometimes south, now the upwardly mobile left the  slums to the brown invasion. Hurrah the ignoramuses had another target.

I’ve  lived in East Sussex for 39 years where the developers have taken over and old money resides. I joined the gym and stepped into the jacuzzi to be confronted by two sneering women. One turned  to the other and said with a smirk;

‘Can you smell curry?’ I thought nothing of it until submerged in  hot foamy water I realised they were calling me a ‘Paki’, their words not mine.

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me – accept now they can. Because we are living in a time  when words have been are weaponised, where words are twisted  and little mice have become grenades.

We are living in a time where if I dont stand up and say my truth then I have ceased to be useful.

Of course Hammas shot themselves in the foot when they slaughtered innocents and Nentyahu is losing support because he is behaving in the same way.

Of course people everywhere are now scared of an escalation as we watch a lack of such intolerance People are stuffing their ears and butting out.  Whether  to hide their necklaces or whether to speak up  requires thought as words have become incendiary. I’m scared too. I turn down jobs if I think I can’t articulate without getting myself sacked yet again. I turn down  jobs in the knowledge  that Jew baiting has increased and I want to keep my small little life safe.

No Arab or Jew, or nun, monk or yogi should be denied  life on earth.

No man with a bible, The Tora or the Quoran should have the right to destabilise our world and yet they are doing it.

Of course I’m scared but I will not be silenced.

Martin Niemöller was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian born in Lippstadt, Germany, in 1892. Niemöller was an anti-Communist and supported Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. Here’s his confessional

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

2 thoughts on “Silence is not Golden”

  1. Thank you my dear Jeni for speaking my heart. You have comforted me.
    Yes I still read your blog and good to see you still as feisty as ever!
    Love ya!


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