New Book Gives a Colorful — and Sobering — Look at Antisemitism in the UK
The Taming of the Jew, by Tuvia Tenenbom (Geffen Publishing, 2021).
In The Taming of the Jew, Tuvia Tenenbom recites his escapades running around the four nations that make up the United Kingdom, meeting different colorful people, while also exposing antisemitism in the country. Below is an excerpt from the book:
Centuries ago, the Prophet Mohammed called the Jews the Nation of the Book, so naturally the first place I’m looking for … in Gateshead is a bookstore.
Not an easy task. I look left and right, up and down, and all I see is a bakery here and a barber there, this store and that, but no bookstores. Zilch. Nada.
Was Mohammed wrong?
Well, not really. There is a bookstore, a fourteen-year-old boy tells me, right ahead of us. I look for it but see no bookstore, not even a trace of one. The boy suggests that I follow him, which I dutifully do, and in a few seconds, he and I are inside a bookstore. The exterior of the bookstore does not resemble a bookstore, or any store whatever, as the shutters are down, and there’s no sign of anything in sight. As strange as it might sound, the owners of this bookstore are doing everything they can to hide the store by all means possible.
Why would any business owner hide the establishment? This is a bookstore, not a heroin distribution center … Why hide? I ask the salesperson, a religious Jew wearing a hat and sporting a beard. “Because we live in the Diaspora,” he tells me.
People here don’t like to talk about it, and some will deny it altogether, he says, but anti-Semitic acts are routine in this area. The shutters of this bookstore are down because otherwise the store would be vandalized by anti-Semites.
Just a couple of days ago, a book shopper wandering in the store tells me, someone yelled at him “Dirty Jew!” Another customer says he was violently pushed aside when walking on the street the other day, and the attacker yelled “Jew.” People here are afraid and ashamed, a young Jewish man tells me, and only very few admit what’s going on in this part of the world. “You won’t see any of it in the media,” a young man outside the store tells me, “but anti-Semitism is a big problem here.”
The boy who accompanied me to the bookstores, wearing a black yarmulke on his head, stands in front of me now and gives me the Heil Hitler salute.
He thinks it’s funny.
The Jews I meet in Gateshead are religious, members of the Orthodox branch of Judaism, and they eat only kosher food. The grocery in the center, selling expensive kosher food, offers many goods imported from Israel. The non-imported food, such as their English gefilte fish and cookies, which I try out, are for the most part less tasteful than sand.
I walk over to the Gateshead Yeshiva, the most prominent British yeshiva, but I can’t walk in. Unlike similar rabbinical seminaries I’ve visited in the United States and in Israel, this one requires a passcode at the entrance door. I stand outside, looking at the young people coming in and going out, and within minutes, a number of students start gathering around me. They want to know what this non-Jew, yours truly, wants from their life. I answer them in Yiddish and Hebrew, and immediately they calm down.
We schmooze, about this and that, and they tell me about their way of life. No student is allowed to have or use a smartphone, but there are landline phones in the yeshiva for students to make calls. Smartphones offer temptations, God save us, and Satan hides inside them. Yeah. But beware: even if no iPhone is in sight, Satan still roams around, especially in restaurants. Not in Gateshead, of course. There are no restaurants in the Jewish part of Gateshead, because in a restaurant, God forbid, boys could look at girls, God save us, and dream of them at night, which could potentially stop the sun from shining in the morning.
Before long, the head of security approaches me. He was called in, he tells me, to verify my identity. “Here we must be careful,” the man says.
Suddenly, there’s a big commotion among the students. The door of the yeshiva opens, and the rosh yeshiva (rabbinical dean), an old man carrying books, comes out. The students clear the way, in awe, to make room for their leader to pass through. The rabbi stops next to me, shakes my hand, and looks at me with his two penetrating eyes. I ask him how life is in the UK. “We are living in the Diaspora,” he responds, and his face turns sad.
I ask the students what “living in the Diaspora” means. What happened in the past, they say, can happen again. What happened in the past?
In 1190, they tell me, the entire Jewish community of York, 150 people, were massacred. The butchery, known as the York Pogrom, took place at Clifford’s Tower, located near an area known as Jewbury.
Jewbury. What a word.
One hundred years later, in 1290, the students go on telling me, King Edward I issued an Edict of Expulsion, expelling all the Jews from the Kingdom of England. This edict was overturned only 367 years later.
That’s the story of the past. The Jews of the present day, mindful of the constant news about anti-Semitism in [one of] Britain’s mainstream [parties] these days, are living in fear, ever afraid that they will be slaughtered once more.
Meantime, they eat their horrible food that tastes like sand. What a curse!
Do I feel pity for them? Not at all. They have the choice, every day of their lives, to move out of here, but they don’t. “Life is comfortable here,” they tell me. As far as I can tell, they need a psychiatrist.
I return to Newcastle and go to the one, still-functioning Jewish house of prayer. The synagogue, which takes me some time to find, doesn’t look like a synagogue but like a high-security prison. Actually, worse than that.
First off, there’s a big, high fence surrounding it. This is not to prevent any prisoner from leaving the compound, but to prevent those outside from breaking in and damaging the place. Then there’s the synagogue itself. There’s no name on the building to identify it as a synagogue, not even a Star of David. Just stones, steps, and walls. The Jews here, you see, are hiding. A temple doesn’t look like a temple, a bookstore doesn’t look like a bookstore, and the food stinks. What a comfortable life!
Tuvia Tenenbom, author of three best sellers in Germany and four in Israel, is a journalist and dramatist. He holds advanced degrees in both fine arts and science and is the founder of The Jewish Theater of New York. Tuvia’s previous books include Catch the Jew!; The Lies They Tell; Hello, Refugees!; and I Sleep in Hitler’s Room.