PASSENGERS on the metro in Manchester last Sunday were on a sombre mission. It was the Ten Days of Penitence, the rain was chucking it down and we were going to say “No” to antisemitism.
But the mood was almost jolly, the camaradie palpable, except for the passenger with a “Free Palestine” placard in her bag.
I almost expected someone to burst into a Cliff Richard parody song — “We’re all going on a... pally rally day”,
However solemn the purpose, it’s impossible to be miserable when you meet up with friends, even if you’ve had reservations about that purpose.
There were those who were worried about security, but the 1,500 who gathered in the city’s Cathedral Square were well protected by CST and police.
Some felt we had protested too much already, fearing a backlash after all the vitriol that had been poured on to Corbyn and his cronies from Sacks to Sugar and many, many more vocal accusers.
Whether this rally will help defeat antisemitism is a moot question. What is not in doubt, though, is that it served as a great morale booster.
A Jew could feel blessed and proud to be there on that rainy, penitential day with their friends from Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, all points north and a few from London, whose rally, we were told, had been nowhere near as well-supported as ours!
From Amalek to Hitler, the chairman reminded us, we had suffered. Now, we were being loved.
Eminent Christians showered us with praise and love. One MP told us he loved his wife “for her Jewishness”, another lauded Chaim Weizmann as validation of our contribution to the greatness of Manchester.
The leader of the city council paid homage to the thousands of Jews who had died in battle for this country and a Catholic MP showed his love by invoking Tikkun Olam.
“Let’s repair the world together,” he roared to the applause, repeated again and again, and directed not so much to the speakers as much as to ourselves.
Much was made by many a speaker of the “irony” of rain in Manchester; humour was to be seen on the placard of Corbyn with the slogan “Even if he was circumcised, he would still be a p****”; there was backache and boredom when speakers went way beyond their allotted five minutes (you know who you are!); tears for the persecuted family of Dame Margaret Hodge, cheers for her praise of heroines Luciana and Louise and applause for her declaration “I want to stay and fight for the soul of my party”.
Dame Louise Ellman was her usual dignified, measured and utterly convincing self (how very timely that her DBE was awarded this summer of mal-corbyn-tent).
The accolade of the afternoon must go to Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis for his most moving, powerful and uplifting oratory.
Apparently without notes, he quoted from the Rambam and used the timing of the Ten Days of Penitence to talk about teshuva (repentance).
He exhorted Britain, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn to do teshuva... to repent (was Jeremy listening?).
The time had come, he said, for teshuva [for the sin of antisemitism] from the right, left, radical Islam, parts of the media and in pockets of all the political parties. Corbyn, he said, had succeeded in uniting all branches of Judaism — Reform, Masorti, charedi and Orthodox.
I searched the huge crowd for representatives of all these branches of Judaism. With the help of friends, I spotted many Reform, Masorti, Sephardi, Ashkenazi and Liberal Jews as well as, of course, mainstream Orthodox, so ably led by the Chief Rabbi.
What we failed to see were many members of that majority of the Manchester Jewish community, those most vulnerable to antisemitism and most in need of protection from its virulence... where were the charedim?
There were, indeed, 15 manning the Chabad tent. But they were most likely in search of Jewish souls rather than representing the ultra-Orthodox community.
The Chief Rabbi expanded eloquently on teshuva which, we are told, precedes tzedaka (charity) in our obligations at this time — and all times — of the year.
When our synagogues allocate the funds from their Kol Nidrei appeals, they will doubtless include all the needy in our community, just as the Chief did in his oration.
Charedim will not be excluded. So why, one has to wonder, did they exclude themselves from this gesture of solidarity, epitomised in the Chief Rabbi-led psalm 120, “Min Hametzar . . . We cried out in our distress”?
Do they not wish to cry out too? Did they not wish to be roused by the blowing (albeit discordant) of five shofarim and the rousing singing of Hatikva and God Save the Queen?
When the wonder of brothers and sisters being together in unity was extolled — Hinei matov u’manayim— did they not wish to be a part of it?
It is, truly, their loss.
Whatever awaits us in this New Year, we will remember that we were there, on that day in rainy Manchester.