Lent blog: 19 – IN PRAISE OF TOLERANCE AND DIVERSITY

Published Wed, 10/03/2021 by

A friend of long-standing has been prominently involved in creating an exhibition in her home city of St Albans. Due to the pandemic, it will not now be shown until the first part of 2022, but Margaret and I were very interested to watch a webinar introducing it this evening.  

Called Arriving and Belonging, the exhibition tells the stories of several members of the Jewish community in St Albans – stories of their ancestors for the most part that is, who had to flee past persecutions in numerous settings: the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms in Czarist Russia, the Nazi threat in Hitler’s Germany …  What all the stories had in common was that the surviving refugees managed to make their way to Britain, where they found an acceptance – not completely untinged by anti-Semitism but, by comparison with the situations they had fled, tolerant and safe.

A mirror has been held up to the British in recent days exposing a racist strand in the national character which is very unappealing – and unacceptable most of all to young people, who have been brought up to more inclusive values.  Historically we have a difficult past to come to terms with.  It includes – in addition to the issues of white supremacy and slavery, the hot topics of the day – our own medieval pogroms, and the expulsion of all Jews (a population of approx. 3,000) from England in 1290 at the orders of Edward I.

It was refreshing, then, to hear tonight heart-warming stories related by numerous families, each of whom have good cause to be thankful for the kindness and welcome their ancestors received when they came to our shores.  They show their continued appreciation by involving themselves generously in many community-building and inter-faith projects, such as working with refugees and other vulnerable people.  They hold an alternative mirror up to us, showing us a better side of ourselves.  As we look at that aspect of our British identity we see how important it is today to strongly reaffirm the values of tolerance, diversity and social generosity we might otherwise be in danger of losing.

For information about the exhibition, visit www.arrivingbelonging.com

MICHAEL KIRKHAM