Andrew Dismore: How London's Menorah Sets a Challenge for the World

Andrew Dismore, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet & Camden
The Jewish News - 6th December 2012

London is the world’s greatest city - with an openness that not only accepts ethnic, faith and cultural differences, but actively seeks and celebrates them. Last month we saw Trafalgar Square host Hindu Diwali festivities – the Festival of Lights. The month before, Muslim Eid. And this month, we will celebrate both Chanukah on the Square and Christmas – with the traditional Christmas tree donated by Norway, in recognition of Britain’s support during the Nazi occupation.

No other city in Europe, or indeed the world, enjoys the cultural and religious special occasions of minority communities so widely.

On Monday, I will join constituents from Barnet and Camden, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, along with residents from all over London in Trafalgar Square. Together we will celebrate Chanukah, a festival with an underpinning lesson symbolising those very same multicultural values and tolerance. The Chanukah story is one of an historic fight for freedom of religion, tolerance and overcoming oppression, of ever-growing relevance to our society today.

Working with the Jewish Leadership Council, London Jewish Forum and Chabad Lubavitch UK who put so much effort into organising this and previous Chanukah in the Square events, I was pleased to have helped ensure this important celebration took place this year.

Public celebrations of faith, culture and community also serve an important role in our city. Whether Chanukah in the Square, or at Diwali, or on St Patricks Day, these festivities give us the opportunity to come together and celebrate in public, in a city of over eight million people speaking over 150 languages.

Our city was on show this summer. If one moment captured its spirit best, then Danny Boyle's opening ceremony of the Olympic Games underlined the positive transformation our city has gone through over the years as new communities have been welcomed and integrated to create the rich tapestry of London life that we enjoy today.

It is that diversity which not only builds a stronger and more tolerant city, but also continues to put London on the map as the premier go-to destination. Tourists from across the globe descend upon London each year to see some of the world's leading site's of heritage and culture.

No visit to London could really be complete without taking in the Tower of London or the British Museum. The West End continues to be the definition of the best in global theatre, whilst the Barbican and the Southbank are the internationally renowned centres in new forms of performance art. And whilst Londoners descended upon the banks of the Thames for the Diamond Jubilee, we were joined in our celebrations by visitors from just about every corner of the globe.

But with the diversity that we have in London, it should also be the case that no visit to our city could really be complete without taking in some of the great cultural offerings of our communities too.

There are some fantastic cultural tourism opportunities which I would like to see gain more support from the Mayor’s tourism organisation ‘London and Partners’.

Whether it is showcasing the story of the Jewish community’s roots in the East End, the Jewish Museum or the soon to open JCC,  and from Sandy's Row to Bevis Marks, there are synagogues and sites of heritage that combined have great potential to shine on the world stage.

It is through building our tourism offer beyond the big institutions of culture that we can continue to nurture a growing tourist economy, bringing money and employment back into London.

With 2012 now drawing to a close, in the new year I will continue to push the case for Barnet and Camden at City Hall, and will be working closely with LJF to promote key proposals from their London Jewish Manifesto.

Last year, Lord Janner told me that the London Menorah is the largest in the world – I would go further and argue that the London Menorah represents a challenge to the world, in the same way that Holocaust Memorial Day (which I helped bring about when I was an MP, after a moving visit to Auschwitz with HET) sets a standard. The challenge for other major cities that lay claim to being cosmopolitan is: do you aspire to match London in your recognition of diversity, difference and respect for one another? And the challenge for London and its Mayor is to match and build on our solid reputation.

I am immensely proud that Britain stands unrivalled in the celebration of our historic Jewish community’s, and of our more recent migrant communities’, traditions. We share a common future together, as we must continue to work hard to ensure that diversity will always be an important part of our country’s psyche.