Preston Minster hosted a poignant service for Holocaust Memorial Day. Amy Troner spoke about her experience of being Jewish in Preston. Here is an extract from her speech
WE have a very small Jewish population here in Preston. Most of us only discover each other by chance and when we do there are usually big hugs and excitement as we feel like part of our family has come home, even though it is only, for now, a stranger.
Over this last year, I have relied more and more on this small community, as we have struggled with our emotions on a daily basis.
It has been a hard year. A sad year. For Jews, and for so many others.
Yet what concerns me is that people are forgetting what days like this are meant to be about. I feel that we are forgetting the holocaust. The reason I believe this is that we are forgetting how we got there in the first place.
We are forgetting how intolerance and the demonising of the “other” leads to murder.
You all know the phrase: “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”, but it isn’t true.
The vicious propaganda, the name calling, the hateful things I have seen on social media. These are the signs. Whether it is towards a Jew or a Muslim or someone else, so many are experiencing the hatred of being “the other” right now.
I woke up this morning to the news that posters for Holocaust Memorial Day were graffitied with the words “liars and killers” in Newham. The fact that Holocaust denial and anti-semitism are still issue in contemporary Britain demonstrates how necessary commemoration of Holocaust Day continues to be.
Last year in Paris, on Holocaust Memorial Day an anti-semitic march took place. It was part of a “Day of Anger” called by anti-government activists in protest of a variety of “anti-establishment” causes. French police estimated that around 17,000 people had attended the march.
In July, there was anti-Jewish rioting in the Sarcelles area of Paris during a pro-Palestinian rally, with Jewish businesses looted and a synagogue attacked.
Not for the first time, there were chants of “gas the Jews” and “kill the Jews”. One Jewish eyewitness said it “took us back to 1938”, a reference to Kristallnacht, when Jewish businesses were attacked across Nazi Germany and Austria. This hatred is not limited to France, and it is not just limited to the Jews.
So many people are being affected, yet many of us may not be aware what our friends, neighbours and colleagues are experiencing at this time.
I have been doing a lot of thinking myself lately. I look at my small Jewish community and I think: “Who is speaking up for us?”
Do we speak up enough for ourselves, do our friends and neighbours speak up for us? Or are we silent. And I realised, there is a lot of silence these days.
This may seem trivial to you but, for example, at my local supermarket, every year, I see signs for Happy Christmas, Eid Mubarak, but never a Happy Chanukah.
Every year I receive Christmas cards, even though we don’t celebrate Christmas. And when I was uncomfortable with my children performing in the school Nativity, I was told it would be fine to leave them out but my children would have to sit by themselves every day for at least a month, with nothing to do (no pressure!).
Then there is the even harder stuff – this year Preston Council raised a Palestinian flag. When what they should have done was raise a flag of peace because there are victims and mourners on both sides.
On so many of my friends and colleagues’ social media pages, there are also Palestinian flags, but there are never both flags raised together.
It feels like no one wants to empathise with the Jewish community. No one wants to say, what is happening is horrible for everyone.
For me personally, I am not experiencing hatred. But what I do feel is that I am being erased. So I feel that I need to speak up more.
I need my Preston community to speak up for me. Whether it is the fanatics in France or countries who publicly state to the world that they will use their weapons to wipe Israel off the face of this earth. At best we hear a weak protest and even this is fading away. But if we have learned anything from the lessons of the holocaust it is that we must not remain silent and be deterred in the face of evil.
Now, on a more positive note. For months now my mind has been racing in circles, because I keep thinking, what is it I can do?
How can I make a difference? I feel so insignificant and powerless in the face of all this craziness. I know I am so fortunate to I live in a wonderful city where I see diversity and feel respect. So how is it that we are achieving this in Preston? It is simple, we are getting to know each other.
For me, this is where it all begins. We ask questions, we learn, we make friends...
I can’t change the world but I know that my friends and I are making a difference to the future generations. And in cities like Preston, where people think nothing ever happens, we are making the biggest difference .