From the President’s Desk – Phillip Leigh – 5775

For the past few years I have composed my Rosh Hashana Message on the Beach of the Old Provencal Hotel in sunny Juan Les Pins.

In past years I have struggled to find a topical subject as a theme. August in terms of newsworthy articles being known as the silly season, with very little going on either nationally or internationally.

Regrettably, this year has proved the exception. Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Africa, Egypt, America, and of course most importantly for us Jews, Israel.

I will reluctantly refrain from adding my own thoughts on the latter to the billions of words that have been written far more eloquently than my ability will allow.

I will however turn my attention to the age old subject of anti-Semitism. This being a subject of which I have personally experienced at various levels in my formative years. Beginning with street fights at an early age on almost a weekly basis, and prejudice in business in the 1960’s and which is now once again raising its ugly head throughout Europe.

Having been greatly disturbed by the many press reports that have been buzzing around the newspapers and the Net, and not being a great one for sitting idly in the sun. I decided to drag myself off of my sunbed, and away from my bottle of chilled Rose Wine and chat to the numerous families of French Jews who have made their annual pilgrimage from Paris down to our little paradise on The Cote D’Azur.

The stories that I heard were most alarming and ranged from great concern of the elderly, to verging on unashamed fear from young people with young families. Many of these were extremely wealthy and well educated and certainly didn’t seem to me the type that would be easily panicked.

Although none of them spoke from personal experience, they all had a myriad of anecdotal stories to tell .This ranged from being afraid of letting their young ones out to play in the park, to name calling in the street and the schools, and the closing of all the Jewish owned shops in Paris’s Marais district by order of the local constabulary who, quote “we are unable to offer you total protection”.

It has been reported that despite pleas to “Keep calm and carry on” from the Jewish radio station in Paris. Emigration from France to Israel, has trebled during the first three months of this year. Additionally although primarily motivated by the poor economy and punishing taxation I am told that many French are now buying and renting in the improving areas in London such as Kentish Town, with many of these being of our faith.

Regrettably they tell me that their government, with 6.5 million of the Muslim faith are less willing to help them in their plight.  They were most surprised when I informed them that both our own government and, opposition parties have shown outstanding support for us in the UK.

I explained that this was primarily due to the persistent encouragement of my good friend Gerald Ronson who along with others founded a brave group of vigilantes which he led way back in the 1950’s, seamlessly evolving into the highly efficient and experienced Community Security Trust which he has since chaired and which is now lead by a past protégé of mine, David Delew as its CEO.

I am sure that we are all familiar with the help that we now all receive from this fantastic organisation, and of the many hours of training and standing around in all weathers undertaken by their army of volunteers.

Many of us may however be unaware of the exceptional work of several influential people within and outside of this fantastic organisation who constantly pave the way by encouraging Members of Parliament, government ministers and heads of regional Police Forces to support us – without which we too may be in the unfortunate position of our brothers in faith in France.

Let us all this Rosh Hashanah pray for the continued success of the CST and the day that Jews throughout the world may be in our fortunate position. For even as the eternal optimist, I, like our emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, have great doubts for us to ever be generally accepted as equals by all peoples and faiths.

His comments at the end of a heartfelt speech at a CST Dinner still ring in my ears which I paraphrase here:-

“The Egyptians came and went, The Philistines came and went, the Greeks came and went, the Romans came and went. But anti-Semitism came……. AND STAYED.

A happy, healthy and peaceful year ahead to you all.