Judaism and charity

In the third of our series on faith and charity, the chief executive of <em><a href="http://www.wjr.

As the years pass and I see my children become increasingly independent, I often marvel at how different their world is compared to when I was a child; from the tsunami to twitter, iPhones to IVF and GM foods to global warming. It is comforting though that some things remain the same. My children attend Cheder – Sunday school for young Jews. There they learn of Jewish history, culture and traditions; they are encouraged to interact with their peers and gain an understanding of the British Jewish community. While their learning methods may be computer-centric rather than under a cloud of chalk boards, the messages are the same. Each week, my children are encouraged to give a percentage of their pocket money to a worthy cause, via the Tzedakah (charity) box that circulates the classrooms. Traditionally, all Jews are obliged to give 10 per cent of their earnings to a charity or organisation that helps those more vulnerable than themselves.

Thus, the concept of charity is ingrained in the Jewish tradition from a very young age. Looking after our old, educating our children and providing for the vulnerable are all cornerstones of Judaism, the culture and the community. The fundamental value of being a "good Jew" lies in helping those less fortunate, along with the importance of family life and the continuation of Jewish traditions.

I am proud of my faith though honest enough to admit that my work for World Jewish Relief (WJR) is how I feel I can best express my Judaism. WJR's work is targeted at assisting the most vulnerable – saving lives and building livelihoods based on our own Jewish values. Our work seeks to provide sustenance and opportunity to those in desperate need who are unable to fend for themselves.

The vast majority of WJR’s work seeks to support the hidden Jewish communities of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that were ravaged first by the Holocaust and then under Soviet rule. There are over 1.2 million Jews in the region, including survivors of those who have faced decades of hardship in the Nazi and Communist eras. A huge percentage of these people also live far below the poverty line, struggling daily to feed their children and protect their elderly. In Ukraine alone, more than 100,000 Jewish people face the anguish of choosing between clothing their children, keeping their homes warm and buying medication. They are deprived of even the simple necessities of running water or appropriate footwear for the harsh winter months. As a son and a father, I cannot bear to imagine my family living in these conditions and I am therefore driven daily to better the lives of such families, in any small way that I can.

I travel to WJR’s recipient communities every few months and never cease to be at once saddened and inspired by what I see and those I speak to. Families who have to travel hundreds of miles to find work, who have been abandoned by relatives and live in what can only be described as hovels maintain a level of positivity and hope. Further, they are proud to be Jewish.

The Jewish faith promotes the Talmudic concept of ‘Tikkun Olam’ – healing the world. In this light, WJR looks beyond Jewish communities and the charity is proud of its global perspective, working both in the former Soviet Union and east and southern Africa to support non-Jewish communities. We recognise that particularity must lead to universality, not to inwardness and exclusion. Because as a community we recall our own historical pain, we become sensitised to other people's pain. We cannot eat in comfort while others go hungry. We cannot celebrate our riches while so many live in poverty. This is why, historically, those who follow Judaism have been among the leaders in the fight against injustice, poverty, homelessness and oppression. To be a Jew involves being true to your faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith.

Paul Anticoni is the Chief Executive of World Jewish Relief

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.