Category Archives: Jews and Jewishness

From the archive: Passages Through Dark Times

Been going through some of my old stuff, and found some stuff from the CUCR magazine Street Signs (archive online here). This is from page 18-19 of Volume 1, Issue 5, Spring 2003. The issue also has a lovely interview with Paul Gilroy about The Streets, Fran Tonkiss on “inner city values”, Michael Stone on Laurie Grove in New Cross, Les Back interviewing M Y Alam, Hiroki Ogasawara visiting Walter Benjamin’s grave, and a beautiful celebration of Flemming Røgilds.

The article below describes my first proper academic conference, in Leipzig, and reflects on the relationship between Jews and the left in the darkness of the 20th century, and how that darkness is remembered by historians and leaves its traces in urban space. Since I wrote it, some of the people in it have passed away, including Arnold Paucker in 2016 (age 95).

Memhardstrasse and Rosa Luxemburg Strasse

Passages Through Dark Times
Ben Gidley talks about Jewishness, Memory and Urban Space in East Germany

“You who will emerge from the flood in which we were drowned remember when you speak of our weaknesses the dark time from which you escaped…
Remember us with forbearance.”
–Bertolt Brecht “To Those Born After Us”

“Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and in their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and
shed over the time span that was given them on earth…”
–Hannah Arendt “Men in Dark Times” 

The transit bus from the airport into Leipzig arrived at the exact time given on the time-table. The bus glided through the flat monotony of the Saxon countryside, entering a zone of urban sprawl, in which it was impossible to distinguish which low-rise concrete box contained homes and which contained factories, warehouses, offices. The grey postindustrial landscape was punctuated here and there by Vietnamese signs, testimony to the historic links between East Germany and Communist Vietnam.

From the bus station, we crossed over the no-man’s land of a wide ring road (“good for tanks”, as my Yiddish teacher, Gennady Estraikh, pointed out – a fact he knew from the bitter experience of living most of his life in the Soviet Union) into the beauty of the baroque town centre. Since reunification, Leipzig has been a jewel in the East’s crown, receiving heavy regeneration investment. “Leipzig is coming” is the bizarre slogan of the tourist office, which describes it as a cosmopolitan, multicultural town (not something apparent from the faces of the people I passed on the street).

It was Autumn 2001. I was in Leipzig to participate in a conference, held at the Simon Dubnov Institute for Jewish History and Culture, entitled “Jewish Questions, Communist Answers”, about the historical relationship between Jews and Communist parties. I was anxious about giving my first proper conference paper – especially as I was scheduled into the opening slot, at 9 a.m., sharing a platform with some of the most distinguished scholars at the conference. As it turned out, post-September 11 fear of flying had kept away many of the American delegates, including the one I was most scared about sharing a session with. The absence of Americans, however, also meant that the dominant language shifted from English to German, leaving me feeling a little marginal – something non-English speakers regularly experience in the often American-centric academic world. As with many European academics, most of the conference participants were able to slide with ease between languages. But the multi-lingualism of the conference delegates was part of something different. Continue reading


Pourquoi les progressistes anglais célèbrent encore un grotesque antisémite et un négationniste ?

A French translation of my Ha’aretz op ed is published here.

Full text: Continue reading


Being Jewish After Balfour: The 1917 Revolution

Date: Thursday 23 November 2017

Time: 7-8pm

Price: Free with Museum entry

Categories: talks

In this talk, Dr James Renton will discuss how the Balfour Declaration transformed what it meant to be a Jew in the world. Rather than a story of Jewish empowerment, he will argue that this revolution was shaped by the interests and power of imperial states and a global political system. At its heart, the talk will grapple with the controversial question of how much control do Jews have over their own identity?

In October 1917, only a minority of Jews believed in Zionism, and many were strongly opposed. Jews who were desperate to be accepted as loyal citizens in the countries that they called home were horrified by the idea of a Jewish nation. Even those who were indifferent to Zionism shared the mainstream assumption that the movement was a utopian dream. This situation changed overnight with the Balfour Declaration- an event that permanently altered the politics of being a Jew.

Dr James Renton is the author of The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914-1918, and co-editor with Ben Gidley of Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: A Shared Story? He is Reader in History at Edge Hill University and Visiting Fellow at the European University Institute.


CIRIS Interview on London’s diaspora communities

This was published on the Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies blog.  Huge thanks to Margot and Chris for the interview and transcript.

12249599_670502763092886_1394241603932128199_nIn November 2015 Birkbeck University’s Dr Ben Gidley gave a lecture at CIRIS on Christian, Muslim, and Jewish diaspora communities in London. Here CIRIS research associates Margot Dazey and Chris Moses ask Gidley about the state of diasporic research, his own research on diaspora groups within London’s famously diverse East End, and the policy implications of such research.

CIRIS: Can you tell us about the main aims of the Oxford Diasporas Programme, as well as those of your specific project? Continue reading


Keith Kahn-Harris on intra-Jewish conflict over Israel and antisemitism

Keith Kahn-Harris in openDemocracy: Internal and external factors in intra-Jewish conflict over Israel and antisemitism, 29 September 2015

Extract:

Ethnic, national and religious groups in most countries are rarely internally homogeneous. The British Jewish minority is no exception. No more than an estimated 450,000 strong at its height immediately after World War Two, figures based on the 2011 census show that there are now less than 300,000 ethnically and/or religiously self-identifying Jews in the UK.

Including Sephardim, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, they trace their ancestry from a wide variety of countries, although the majority are now British-born. They include secular, reform, conservative, modern orthodox and Haredi Jews (groups which themselves are internally diverse), and they hold a variety of political positions on Jewish issues, antisemitism, Israel and much else.

This internal diversity has only recently started to become visible outside the Jewish minority and to be recognised within it. For many years, the dominant and long-established Jewish ‘representative’ institutions such as the Chief Rabbinate and the Board of Deputies attempted to present an image of a loyal, secure and united British Jewish community – what Ben Gidley and I have called the “strategy of security”. This strategy was never uncontested, but in the post-war period it became increasingly unviable as a variety of Jewish groups sought their place at both the public and communal tables.

While this strategy initially developed in a nineteenth-century Britain that required ‘loyal’ citizens who would be publicly British and only privately Jewish, it was sustained longer than might have been expected in the post-war period. However, by the 1990s, Jewish religious diversity at least had become impossible to ignore both internally and externally.


From Eastern Europe to the East End to Essex and beyond

I’m very honoured to be working with Eastside Community Heritage on the wonderful intergenerational and interfaith oral history project, “Jewish Migration Routes: From East End to Essex”, on Jewish international and internal migration, funded by the Rothschild Foundation. Yesterday, a fantastic day with King David High School students in Oxford:


How EasyJet and anti-Zionism are turning British Jews into Israelis

Ben Judah and Josh Glancy have been writing a fascinating series, A Polite Hatred, on Jews and antsemitism in Britain, for the US-based Jewish magazine The Tablet. Part 5, “We Are All Zionists Now: How EasyJet and anti-Zionism are turning British Jews into Israelis“, was published on 30 April.

Ben Judah interviewed me for it. The article is really interesting. Here is the two sections that quote me:

benjudah-tablet20april2015These two kinds of Jews—heritage Jews and hummus Jews—increasingly struggle to grasp each other and may end up on opposing sides of the debates, especially at times of war in Israel, which means that British Jews are moving in two opposite directions at once. Ben Gidley is one of Britain’s leading experts on Jewish sociology. “What we saw in the last census,” he said, “was that there was an increasing concentration and an increasingly dispersion of Jews in the U.K. For the first time there are Jews in every local authority in Britain. For the most part those Jews thinning out are living religiously unaffiliated, assimilated lives, with practically nothing to do with Israel.”

“However,” he continued, “there is also a parallel greater than ever concentration of Jews into North West London—where they are living more than ever in some kind of bubble. What media Jews are reading plays a big part of that bubble: they are increasingly reading transnational Israeli or American English language Jewish publications.”

[…]

“The trouble for British Jews is the British don’t understand Jewish ethnicity,” said Ben Gidley. “Is it a race? Is it a religion? Are they the same ethnicity as the Israelis? Or is it racist to associate them with Israelis? The British don’t understand.”

It may well be the case that many British Jews don’t fully appreciate the complexity of their new identity either. Or what the implications of this will be if Israel does indeed become a pariah state to Europeans, as many of its detractors hope it will.

Continue reading


Review of Turbulent Times by Geoffrey Alderman

Review of Turbulent Times: the British Jewish community today by 

in Journal of Modern Jewish Studies  Volume 12, 2013 Issue 2 Pages 367-368 | Published online: 11 Nov 2013

Free first page


Diasporic Memory and the Call to Identity: Yiddish Migrants in Early Twentieth Century East London

I have a new article published, with the above title, in the Journal of Intercultural Studies, Volume 34, Issue 6.

Here’s the abstract:

This article explores the associational politics and diasporic memory of Jewish migrant workers in early twentieth century East London. It examines the ways in which associational activity, and specifically landsmanshaftn (hometown associations), tied migrants to sending contexts in both material and affective ways. This meant that diasporic memories were woven into the day-to-day political practices of these migrants, and were mobilised politically in response to the call to identification represented by traumatic events ‘back home’, as is illustrated in two examples, the protests at the 1903 Kishinev pogrom and solidarity with the civilian victims of the First World War. The article also shows that these mobilisations exemplify the ways in which such processes made a difference to the forms of identity and identification available to Jewish migrant workers in this period.

View full text; Download full text.

This appeared in a special issue, Refugee and Diaspora Memories, edited by Thomas Lacroix and Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh. Read the introduction here.


Review of Turbulent Times by Heather Miller Rubens

Review of: Kahn-Harris, Keith, and Gidley, BenTurbulent Times: The British Jewish Community Today. London: Continuum International, 2010. 237 pp. $34.95 (paper) by Heather Miller Rubens (Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies) in The Journal of Religion Volume 93, Number 2 | April 2013

First Page /Full Text / PDF

Free first page

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From Ben’s archive: The First War on Terror

I just saw this at Hari Kunzru’s website:

Bande a Bonnot

Anyone interested in political history or theory should visit Christie Books, the publishing house and anarchist archive run by Stuart Christie, would-be assassin of General Franco and author of the entertaining memoir My Granny Made Me an Anarchist. The site contains a great deal of audio and video, including a documentary I made for BBC Radio 3 in 2008 called The First War on Terror. It’s about the anti-anarchist panic that gripped Europe in the late Victorian period, and the responses by writers (from pulp novelists to greats like Conrad and Chesterton) to the fears of a social order without gods or masters. Listen to the program here.

I feature (fairly briefly) in the programme, taking Hari on a walking tour of East London, including Freedom Books, which was firebombed this week, probably by fascists (and not for the first term), along with Clive Bettington of the Jewish East End Commemoration Society (far more radiogenic than me), talking about Joseph Conrad, Rudolf Rocker and more.

Here’s the BBC’s page on it:

b00dp1phNovelist Hari Kunzru explores how pulp fiction writers and great novelists got to grips with the UK’s first major ‘war on terror’ – against the Anarchists of Victorian and Edwardian times. These ‘scare novels’ responded to the Anarchists’ wish to abolish the State by depicting outlandish scenarios such as political assassinations and large-scale bombings.

He also explores the world of the real anarchists in London’s immigrant communities – most of whom were peaceful and cultured East End Jewish activists, trying to improve conditions in the garment trade – in contrast to these terrorists the novelists imagined and the popular press feared.

Bringing the programme up to date, Hari and literary scholars Laurence Davies and Deaglan O’Donghaile also briefly consider the modern response to 9/11, asking whether novels on terrorism ever get it right.


Audrey Goodfriend z”l

Audrey GoodfriendToday – a week after the yortsayt of my grandfather (the anniversary of his death, when Jews light a candle and recite kaddish, the memorial prayer) – I read that Audrey Goodchild has died.

I met Audrey Goodchild about ten years ago, at a conference on anarchists and Jews in Venice. She was just in her 80s then. She has died this month in her 93rd year. She was a wonderful character, a great raconteur, and full of human warmth and fun.

Born into an immigrant Jewish anarchist family in New York in 1920, she was a lifelong anarchist. She was a pioneer in the libertarian education movement and involved in the beatnik scene.

Like my Communist grandparents, she was ambivalent about her Jewish identity, seeing ethnicity, race and religion as so many illusions that we will throw off come the revolution, in the proletarian dawn when all difference is dissolved. She saw herself (after Voltairine de Cleyre) as an “anarchist without adjectives“. While my grandparents, in their old age, came to embrace again the Jewish culture and tradition they had rejected in their youth (without giving up their commitment to the left, or indeed their atheism), Audrey never did. Even though she joked and sometimes (she told me) dreamt in Yiddish, she saw her Jewishness as a dead skin to shake off.

Audrey and her close comrades in the Why? group found themselves at odds with many of the more Jewish-identified anarchists in the Yiddish scene, who mainly came from the immigrant generation, as World War II approached. Most Jewish anarchists saw themselves as anti-fascists. Many therefore supported the Allied war effort, seeing WWII as sharply different from WWI – not just imperialist rivalry between the big powers, but also a fight to save European Jewry from Naziism. Audrey had no time for this line of thinking. When some of her comrades, such as Irving Sterling, joined the American army, Audrey broke off relations with him. In my view, history has vindicated Irving and not Audrey, but she remained convinced that she had been on the right side when I met her.

Like my grandfather, who refused any memorial after he passed on, I am sure Audrey believed that there is nothing left of us but ashes and dust after we die. I will not pray for her, but I will think of her next year as I light my grandfather’s candle.

Here is her fuller story. Here is a short interview clip with her from 2011.


Gefilte fish and syndicalism

From the website of Donnacha DeLong’s The Circled A show on Resonance FM:

Commemorating the strikes of 1912 meeting On 23 May, the Jewish Socialists’ Group held a meeting in the library of the Bishopsgate Institute to discuss the history and continuing relevance of the 1912 tailor’s strike, inspired by Rudolf Rocker. The meeting covered the history of unionism in the East End, including the Docks, the history of the rag trade and sweatshops, the strike in 1912 and what it can teach the contemporary trade union movement. The meeting was chaired by David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists and included talks by Ben Gidley, senior researcher at Compas at Oxford University working on East End Jewish radical history, and Donnacha DeLong, President of the National Union of Journalists.

File 1: David Rosenberg opens the meeting

Part 01 rocker event intro

File 2: Ben Gidley talks about the history of the unions in East London and the history of the rag trade

Part 02 rocker event ben gidley

File 3: Donnacha DeLong talks about the broader context of the strike and its relevance for contemporary trade unionism

03 rocker event donnacha delong

File 4: Audience Q&A

Part 04 rocker event Q and A

UPDATE: Versions of mine and Donnacha’s talks have since been published in Jewish Socialist magazine.


Secularism, Racism and the Politics of Belonging

My paper “Faith Communities and Racism: Some Reflections from the Anglo-Jewish Experience” has been included in the newly publication by the Runnymede Trust“Runnymede Perspectives: Secularism, Racism and the Politics of Belonging”.

This publication is a collection of papers that were presented at conferences in 2010 and 2011 co-organized by the Runnymede Trust and CMRB – the Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging at the University of East London. The contributors address issues of migration, racism and religion. The publication is edited by Professor Nira Yuval-Davis and Professor Philip Marfleet, University of East London.

Read the Conference Report by Mary Sutton. Listen to an embarrassing mp3 of my oral presentation. And even more embarrassing  youtube of my paper, part 1 and 2.


Contemporary Anglo-Jewish community leadership: coping with multiculturalism

The British Journal of SociologyNew article published in British Journal of Sociology:

Contemporary Anglo-Jewish community leadership: coping with multiculturalism, Ben Gidley, Keith Kahn-Harris.

Article first published online: 8 MAR 2012. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2011.01398.x. Volume 63,  Issue 1, pages 168–187, March 2012

Abstract: In this article, drawing on qualitative interviews and documentary analysis, we argue that the Jewish community in Britain has undergone a fundamental shift since 1990 from a ‘strategy of security’, a strategy of communal leadership based on emphasizing the secure British citizenship and belonging of the UK’s Jews, to a ‘strategy of insecurity’, where the communal leadership instead stresses an excess of security among Anglo-Jewry. We demonstrate this based on two case studies: of the Jewish renewal movement in the 1990s and the ‘new antisemitism’ phenomenon of the 2000s. We conclude that this shift is tied to the shift from a monocultural Britain to an officially multicultural one, and that therefore there are lessons that can be taken from it for the study of British and other multiculturalisms. Continue reading

Borderline Views: Critical friends of Israel

Article published in Jerusalem Post last year:

By DAVID NEWMAN LAST UPDATED: 08/02/2010 20:5

Extract:

MUCH OF the renewed pro-Israel lobbying in the UK has largely been as a response to the growth of anti-Israel and, in some cases anti-Semitic, sentiments throughout the UK, of which the proposed academic boycotts (largely unsuccessful) is but one indication. This ties in with the sentiments expressed in the recently published book on contemporary Anglo-Jewry by Keith Kahn-Harris and Ben Gidley, entitled, Turbulent Times: The British Jewish Community Today. The authors argue that whereas thirty years ago, the Anglo-Jewish community acted out of a position of security, this has changed dramatically and that the present situation is reflected in growing feelings of insecurity. The authors imply that, while incidents of anti-Semitism have definitely been on the increase in recent years, it is nowhere near as bad as some of the Jewish newspapers and headlines suggest. But Peres’s remarks go a long way to expressing how British anti-Semitism is viewed in Israel and has inflamed the debate within Britain and the local Jewish community. This growing feeling of insecurity among some elements partially explain the significant growth in the numbers of young families who are leaving the UK for Israel – in the past almost all aliya has been a result of the positive desire to live in Israel and contribute to the Jewish state, while today much of the present growth in aliya is due – for the first time – to a growing sense of insecurity brought on by the increase in anti-Israel sentiment. The Nefesh B’Nefesh organization, which facilitates aliya from the Western world, has recently increased its full-time staff who deal with olim from the UK to meet the increased demand for their services.


British Jews and Muslims: two myths

Part 1 “the myth of Jews as a model minority, blazing a trail that Muslims and other immigrants should follow” and Part 2 “the Islamophobia-is-the-new-antisemitism myth” can both be read at the Muslim Institute, concluding:

“This complex reality requires a complex politics. We need to stop competing in the victimhood stakes and recognise that both racisms are important and dangerous. We need to attend to Islamophobia in the Jewish community and to antisemitism in the Muslim community. And we need to be vigilant about the blurry line between taking sides on Israel/Palestine and taking up antisemitic or Islamophobic themes. Once Jews and Muslims recognise they have a common stake in fighting both racisms then we can begin to build a Britain free of antisemitism and Islamophobia.”

Full text follows. Continue reading