In 1990 George Michael released his single Freedom 90 and it charted at number 28 which surprises me knowing the appeal and reputation George Michael had during this era. This song wasn’t playing on the radio wen I drove home from the school run this morning but it was another iconic tune from the 1980’s, 1983 to be precise, by the British singer Howard Jones called “New Song” I had the freedom to turn up the radio, sing along and deliberately tune into the fact that I had the freedom to listen to my music at any level, and in fact can do almost just what I want to during my day.
I am mindful of my freedom especially this week as Holocaust Memorial Day is on Monday 27 January; today as I write. The focus is “Stand Together”. Stand Together against persecution, discrimination, inequality, and everything that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stands for. Whilst doing so I recall a visit to Manchester Jewish Museum in the North West of England, not quite 10 years ago. I had taken the students there on “school trip/experiences” before as part of their RS/Judaism course but this was one for teachers only. It was donation only and as it was during the Easter holiday’s I didn’t need to seek permission from my employer to go. All I had to do was choose to go for my own Personal Development. Our main speaker was a gentlemen brought up in a Quaker (denomination of Christianity) family. He spoke of how he had been saved from the impending Nazi oppression in his home town and looked after by this Quaker family in the UK, and that he had lost all his family to the atrocities at that time. His captivating story was of course emotional and I learned so much from his first-hand account which I will share as part of my SMSC reflections.
The message he wanted us to take away was thinking of the Jewish faith not as victims (which of course they were) but liberators. He wanted us to consider that this race of people despite the continual persecution they had faced, in 167 BCE Jewish practice was forbidden as Hellenization was enforced by law, they were a people who maintained their faith, their belief in the one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent God. They were liberators in the sense that it didn’t matter what was taken away from them they still had their faith, their dedication to God and it is this that binds them with all their ancestors.
Have you ever traced your family tree? It is something I am aware of and I know bits and pieces of my own family history. One aspect was particularly striking was discovering my ancestors, at least three generations behind, had arrived in Liverpool in the North of England, on a ship that was bound for America. We do not know why they got off the boat, perhaps it was because they didn’t have the money for the rest of the journey or maybe it was the lure of the already established Jewish community in Liverpool. What we discovered was that my ancestors were Jews living in Russia and had been forced out of the country because of the Pogroms. I know that Chapman, a name of my ancestors who settled in Liverpool, is considered by some genealogists as a typical Jewish Sephardic name but on further investigation it seems that there could even be German roots. So does this hint at Russian Jewish links for me and my family on my mother’s side?
Another synagogue I had visited again with students was The Princess Road Synagogue, in Liverpool. I mentioned this knowledge to the Rabbi who was very welcoming and invited me and my family to the Shabbat meal that Friday. We don’t know if our research will yield any Jewish results yet. If it doesn’t I can still feel connected to this race of people through a shared connection of humanity and continuing to stand together for all our futures.
For this week however I am grateful for my freedom, equality and dignity. With that comes my right to life, and opportunity to travel. I have spiritual, public and political freedoms and wherever I am I have freedom of thought, opinion religion and conscience.
Sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves others and the world around them.
Make a list of what you are grateful for. It could be material like my house or it could be something existential like freedom to make choices.
Ability to recognise the differences between right and wrong.
You know someone is being bullied at school or at work. What are you going to do about it today?
Use a range of social skills in different contexts for example working with socialising with other pupils, including those from different religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
Challenge yourself to work with someone who you don’t know? Sit with someone new at lunch time, encourage someone to take part in an extra-curricular activity you are part of.
Understanding and appreciation of the wide range of cultural influences that have shared their own heritage and that of others.
If being brought up in a different culture could save your life would you be prepared to do it? What would you remember the most from your previous life?