Strong interfaith links in Lancaster highlighted as Holocaust Memorial Day is marked

A message about the importance of unity in the community was given as part of a Lancaster event to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 12:11 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 4:57 pm
Holocaust Memorial Day is a national commemoration day in the UK on January 27, dedicated to the remembrance of the Jews and others who suffered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution.
Holocaust Memorial Day is a national commemoration day in the UK on January 27, dedicated to the remembrance of the Jews and others who suffered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution.

Fiona Frank, secretary of Lancaster and Lakes Jewish Community, gave a speech on Sunday in the Jewish rooms at Lancaster University at a bagel brunch organised by Lancaster's Holocaust Memorial Day committee, led by Kathryn MacDonald of More Music in Morecambe.

The gathering also included Klezmer music from Jane Lawrence on fiddle, Nigunim (songs without words from the Jewish religious tradition) led by Beth De Lange, and some poetry written by local refugees and asylum seekers during English classes given through Lancaster City of Sanctuary on this year's Holocaust Memorial Day theme, 'One Day', brought by Global Link's Eleanor Denvir.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a national commemoration day in the UK on January 27, dedicated to the remembrance of the Jews and others who suffered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution.

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Fiona Frank. Photo by Ruth Corney

It was first held in January 2001 and has been on the same date every year since.

In Fiona's speech she spoke about the strength of the local interfaith community, as well as the recent Texas hostage situation, emphasising that Islamophobia is not an antidote for antisemitism.

Here is her speech in full:

"The Holocaust was an extreme example of dividing people and breeding hatred between peoples who should be natural allies against oppressive governments and oppressive economic and judicial systems.

There are so many examples of ‘righteous gentiles’, however, that we can be assured that the strategy of dividing people during the Nazi era wasn’t wholly successful. In turn many Jewish people in South Africa stood up against apartheid and the system of dividing peoples and creating hate and mistrust and inequalities between different peoples.

Last week in Texas we saw a situation where a Muslim man who came from less than 40 miles from this place took Jews hostage while they were at their local synagogue, at a Shabbat morning service.

The Jewish congregants were all able to escape after a 10 hour standoff - the hostage taker was shot and killed by the security services.

We all know those facts.

The Community Security Trust which helps to provide security for the Jewish community said that it had had calls from several worried Jewish people in Preston and Blackpool.

Their advice is that they do not have the resources to attempt to provide for our security and that we should “withdraw immediately from all communal involvement where there is a risk of conflict on any level”.

After reading this I made sure that the organisers had informed the police about our Holocaust Memorial Day events.

But the message that I want to put over here is that Islamophobia is not an antidote to anti-Semitism, and is again a false way of dividing peoples who should be allies.

Jeremy Dable from Preston’s Jewish community was invited by the BBC to speak with Sayma Afzal from Blackburn, part of Blackburn’s Muslim community .

They had a 40 minute conversation and five minutes of it were featured on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday morning. He talked to her about his fear when he heard what had happened - and she talked about how she felt when she had heard the news - she doesn’t want the whole community to be tarred by this one act.

She realised how important it was to have dialogue across the communities - and the two of them were much heartened by their conversation and are going to continue these links.

In Lancaster the Jewish and Muslim communities have long standing links through the Communities Together group which has been run by the city council for over 10 years.

I wrote to that group immediately after the event because I realised the Muslim community would be as affected by last week’s incident as we were, and wanted to reach out to them as Jews and remind us all that we have more that unites us than divides us.

We had three very appreciative responses from Muslim leaders: Here’s one, in full, from Khaldoun Jayousi, who was a founding member of Lancaster’s Interfaith group and a longstanding member of the Communities Together group:

Dear Fiona and colleague members of the communities together group;

I would like to firstly, commend all the good work you all in this group do to build bridges between all our different minority groups from different faiths, regions and other orientations.

Secondly, my special and personal thanks go to Fiona and the Jewish community for their patience and dignity in dealing with the synagogue hostage taking news at Texas.

It was admirable and so humane of Fiona, Naomi and Rob, to take the time and write to assure the Muslim community of their solidarity and common good of mankind.

I did forward the email to the Lancaster Islamic Society committee who in turn sent a support and thanks email in reply to Fiona. No one should suffer or be victimised for his or her faith, colour or sex.

Nor should the whole faith and/or community be labelled and targeted for the criminal doing of one of its members or followers. The more we call upon our human good nature and what unites us the more our city and communities will understand and bond together more.

I thank God the Texas ordeal ended with freeing the innocent hostages safely, and pray no such incidents happen again to anyone.

I’d like us to remember that a blessing of Jewish tradition is that it welcomes our questions and our wrestling... May we continue to build resilience - and allyship - at these times.

And I’ll finish with Jo Cox’s words again that I want us to all remember as a message from these events - “We are far more united than the things that divide us” - and remind us again that 'Islamophobia is not an antidote for antisemitism.'"

Lancaster and Lakes Jewish Community is a small, inclusive community of Jewish people, people with Jewish heritage, and those with an interest in Judaism, open to all.

They hold services for the High Holy Days and some other festivals at Lancaster University’s Jewish Rooms, plus numerous other cultural and social events throughout the year.

To contact the group, email the secretary Fiona Frank at [email protected] or leave a message on 01524 566613.