It is not often that I, as a Leeds United fan, would approvingly quote Gary Neville for an article.
But, switching my phone on after Yom Kippur on Saturday night, I came across a tweet which had already attracted and would continue to attract much comment and reaction.
He said “To have to drive past a place of worship and see a visible security presence in your home city is depressing”. He later confirmed that the “place of worship” to which he had referred was in Prestwich.
I have used my powers of deduction to work out that he must have been driving past the Shrubberies shul- the Prestwich Hebrew Congregation, where I spent my first 21 Yamim Noraim. I assume he was driving from town up the Bury New Road to the junction with the M62 to travel to Huddersfield for their lunchtime game against Spurs. Shrubberies is the most visible place of worship on that route and he will clearly have seen the high level of both volunteer and police security for the Yom Kippur service.
His tweet generated much reaction. I said that it was sad that Gary had to see with his own eyes what our community has had to live with for over 30 years.
We have become so used to security that it is only when it is pointed out by or when it causes a shocked reaction in someone else, especially someone with a high profile, that we realise how shocking it must be to the rest of the population. Although high levels of security are second nature to us, most people will never see a synagogue or jewish school and so will have no idea of the levels of security that we live with.
My father z’l and I used to be part of the rudimentary security rota at the Shrubberies shul when it was first put in place around 1980, if my memory serves me well. There were three positions each Shabbos, at the door, by the main road and at the access road. On Yom Tov, there were two more positions in the car park and at the entrance to the rear car park. There was limited training and rudimentary instruction. But, the security was required even then and we all willingly participated in the rota.
Thanks to the tremendous advances introduced by the CST, the volunteer security, which is intended to provide a comprehensive and visible security deterrent, when I now stand on security at my shul in Hampstead Garden Suburb, on the Yomim Noraim involves a large number of different positions. We are all comprehensively briefed and disbursed near, and in a wide perimeter around, the building.
This security is repeated at schools and, thanks to Government support, at Jewish buildings. On high profile occasions and at times of higher threat, there may be visible police support.
Some of the responses to Gary Neville’s tweet were instructive of attitudes and prejudices in the Jewish community. Some tried to be topical. One blamed “Jeremy Corbyn’s thugs”, perhaps ignoring the fact that we have required security at our shuls and schools since before Jeremy Corbyn was an MP. Some tried to shame Gary Neville in to not knowing about this before.
As a community, we have a contradictory attitude to this security. We insist that it is provided and that the Government makes a contribution. Yet, at the same time, we use the fact that we need security as evidence of how bad things are for Jews in this country.
My most memorable example of this contradiction was an event at Kings College London last year. There had been threatened protests by PSC activists against a scheduled Israeli speaker. There was a suggestion that the event might have to be cancelled. After a meeting with the Principal of the college, he guaranteed that the speaker event would go ahead. A comprehensive security plan was put in place, with plans for safe protest and for protection for those attending the event. It passed off peacefully.
I was stunned to find some activists arguing that the fact that we had required security to allow a pro-Israel event was evidence of an unacceptable level of antisemitism. When I argued that security was just a fact of life for us in our community, I was subjected to some quite vile criticism.
Security at Jewish institutions and events is a fact of life and one that we have become sadly used to. I wish it were not necessary. But it is. Not because of antisemitism within the Labour party but because the intelligence advice is that there are people who pose a threat to Jews and one of the ways to deter them is to provide a visible security presence and to be vigilant at all times.
So, when somebody famous like Gary Neville notices what has become second nature to us, it does jolt us a little. It causes us to stop and think – why do we have it? Is it normal? What does it say about society?
More importantly, if it causes a debate in Gary Neville’s wider circle about what this says about society, so much the better.
The reaction is not to bemoan our situation or to blame others or to criticise. The proper reaction is to explain why we have security and to thank Gary Neville for having the sensitivity to address the issue in the right way.
But more importantly, it gives us an opportunity to thank the CST and the thousands of volunteers who provide their time and their dedication to helping to protect us all as we go about our daily lives.
One day, we pray there will be no need for any security anywhere. But until then, the Shrubberies and other shuls will need high levels of security. And more former Premiership footballers turned TV pundits may notice it.