Friday, February 06, 2015

Meddler on the Roof

SINGING from the hymn sheet?  Or getting another report on Tower Hamlets? Eric Pickles, here with Home Secretary Theresa May, is Minister for Communities and Faith. So will he put money where his mouth is, and help repair synagogue roof?

(a real East Enders' tale)

A former East Enders actress says the series is unreal in its depiction of the area's ethnic make up. I've often thought the same about its socio-economic model. I can suspend disbelief and accept residents going to the cafe for breakfast, on Coronation Street or Albert Square, is a dramatic device.
But an entire community living by pulling pints or selling each other dodgy gear from market stalls seems a bit unreal to me.

With no one leaving the Square for work, or social life, I fear the effect of isolation and inbreeding once associated with Fenland villages, though it spares us Walford residents grumbling about London's transport problems or talking about the bus strike.

Steering clear of anything political seems a soap rule generally, though Coronation Street once had young Ken Barlow worrying his Mum by going on a CND march. (I don't know whether this had anything to do with ex-miner and Left-wing writer Jim Allen contributing scripts. I did go on a march down Cross Lane, Salford. not unlike the one heard going past the Street on Corrie.)  Brookside, which I rarely watched, had brother-sister incest and bodies under patios, one Liverpool-born critic I know praised the "social realism"; but as a regular fan confirmed to me, nobody in the series ever once mentioned the three-year long struggle waged  over Liverpool docks.  

This must have been galling for one member of the cast, ex-docker Peter Kerrigan, who'd entered TV in a Jim Allen play, and hadn't forgotten his old comrades. But in the end it was Robbie Fowler who broke the TV blackout on the dockers.

Anyway, to get back to 'East Enders',  I thought I'd suggest a real East End story, albeit introducing a couple of implausible characters. The Rt.Honorable Eric Pickles MP is, to quote his full job title, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Minister for Faith. After recent tragic events in Paris and before sending out a letter to mosques on their duty to prove they are British, Pickles took part in a photo opportunity alongside Home Secretary Theresa May, both holding up signs declaring 'Je suis Juif' - I am Jewish. My reaction when I saw this was a horrified shudder, but I suppose that is ungracious. There is a way that Pickles could win appreciation.  

Here is an item that caught my eye in the online Jewish News:
"A group of young Jews are fundraising to help save one of London’s oldest synagogues on Nelson Street, Whitechapel. East London Central Synagogue, founded in 1923 is the East End’s oldest purpose built synagogue, but its roof is collapsing and its original features are in need of major repair. Jewdas is aiming to raise at least £5,000 to save the synagogue, and have started a campaign.

Jewdas, as their name suggests, are a witty, irreverant but creative young group whose seemingly wild but well-organised cultural events have breathed new life into their community, and its better traditions, while blowing more than a raspberry at the Establishment. Some of these young people were to be seen marching behind the Young Jewish Left banner on last year's Gaza demonstrations.
Now they are showing the same lack of inhibition taking responsibility for something constructive and positive.

It's almost like a small piece of Cameron's forgotten 'Big Society', but without the big money advertising, over-paid CEOs,  and exploited charity workers.  Jewdas are just amateurs. 

To understand the background, mind, let's start with an item headed 'Politics and race: A tale of two mayors',  which appeared in 2013, in of all places,  The Economist:  

 STRIDING into the east London Central Synagogue, Lutfur Rahman grasps Leon Silver, a wiry Jewish elder, in his arms. Mr Silver hugs back. Since winning the mayoralty of Tower Hamlets, an east London borough with a quarter of a million inhabitants, in 2010, Mr Rahman has allocated some £3m ($4.5m) to repairing religious buildings. The synagogue is one of them. Tactile and soft-spoken, with a beaming countenance, Mr Rahman—a Bangladeshi Muslim—is every bit the local champion.
The contrast in styles was with Newham's Labour mayor Sir Robin Wales, who I'll deal with another time. The E15 mothers protesting social cleansing and taking part in Saturday's housing march have already been dealing with him.

That 'Economist'  article appeared on November 9, 2013,  which happened to be the anniversary of Hitler's Kristallnacht pogroms, a point that's only been given significance now by news of swastika graffiti in parts of east London, and Holocaust memorial posters being defaced.

 Lutfur Rahman was re-elected mayor of  Tower Hamlets last year, but his re-election is being challenged in the courts. In December, although a police investigation found no evidence of fraud, Eric Pickles sent his commissioners in to take over the council, having received a report from Price, Waterhouse and Cooper alleging a “worrying pattern of divisive community politics and alleged mismanagement of public money by the mayoral administration of Tower Hamlets”.

So how does that affect the synagogue?
"East London Central Synagogue, founded in 1923, is the East End's oldest remaining purpose built synagogue. It is a remnant of a once thriving Jewish East End culture, and an important emblem of Jewish Heritage. The synagogue was due a grant from Tower Hamlet's Council to cover much needed renovations - in particular the roof, which the congregation has been waiting to repair for many years. However, due to recent intervention in the running of the council by communities minister Eric Pickles, the grant has been frozen, and is likely to be much lower in value if it is still given. "

We might add that as well as amalgamating several previous congregations, the synagogue hosts varied cultural as well as religious activities. Keeping it going helps maintain Tower Hamlets' diversity, affording confidence to old East Enders staying in the borough and newcomers deciding to make it their home.  

One does not have to agree with Lutfur Rahman's policy of working with faith groups, or other aspects of Tower Hamlets council, to see that it is not quite the "divisive" policy unduly favouring Muslim groups or places of worship which media and political rivals have been suggesting. We do have to ask whether Pickles, and those egging him on,  have been divisive in singling out Tower Hamlets for intervention.  

And while we admire the spirit of those young people who have taken responsibility for raising funds for East London synagogue, it does not seem unreasonable to ask that Mr.Pickles and his commissioners, and anyone else who meddles in Tower Hamlets, should take responsibility for honouring the council's legitimate pledges.

   The synagogue in Nelson Street.

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