Britain’s Jewish Windrush

 

Tish B’Av and Britain’s Jewish Windrush

What do 18 July 1290  and 22 July 2019 have in common?  

They both mark the expulsions from the UK of immigrants previously welcomed and subsequently were deemed illegal. Both mark dark times in our  history, and the plight of two diasporas in our multi-cultural society.

The Windrush Generation

On June 22, 1948, the ship HMT Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury Docks just east of London, bringing with it the first immigrants from the Caribbean. The ship's name inspired the term, the Windrush Generation, to denote the large-scale influx of Caribbean immigrants during the years that followed. Between 1948 and 1970, nearly half a million people moved from the Caribbean to Britain, which in 1948 faced severe labour shortages in the wake of the Second World War. The immigrants were later referred to as "the Windrush generation".

Racism and Prejudice

While the Windrush Generation and their descendants are today honoured for their immense contributions to British society following the trauma of the Second World War, the first Afro-Caribbean immigrants were met with extreme intolerance from large parts of the white population. Having initially been encouraged to settle in the UK and take up employment to relieve the labour market by the authorities, many early immigrants were denied access to private employment and accommodation on account of their skin colour. Black people were also banished from many pubs, clubs, and even churches.

Windrush Day Events

Windrush Day was introduced in 2018, on the 70th anniversary of the landing of the first Caribbean migrants, for the purpose of “encouraging communities across the country to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush Generation and their descendants,” according to the UK government. Backed by government funding, the day features a large variety of activities, including dance performances, exhibitions, and debates.

But there is a heavy irony – the Windrush generation were recently put under threat of deportation, and their previously unchallenged right to remain in the Britain as UK citizens with UK passports and civil rights was called into question under what is know as the Home Office “hostile environment policy”

Some were arrested, interned in what appeared to be prisons, and heavily pressured to sign papers recognising they were in the UK illegally. They would be deported back to the Caribbean countries they came from as children or at the invitation of the British government to fill job vacancies that had been advertised and offered to them.

Many had made their lives in the UK, build their homes and families on the understanding that they were not only welcome here but fully accepted and integrated into the life of the UK.

Unwanted, The Secret Windrush Files

David Olusoga’s unmissable documentary “The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files” is a damning indictment of British racial prejudice, chronicling the governmental resistance to the immigrants, and how Winston Churchill and other members of the Cabinet sought to monitor the immigrants, racially profiling them and preventing them from applying for the jobs they were eligible for. Whilst attempting but failing to detour the flow of immigrants to other countries, the UK government did all it could to hinder their access to employment and accommodation, all the while not making public their approach, until Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood “ speech on 20th April 1968 brought the immigration question to prominence in public discourse.

Professor David Olusega examined the plight of the Windrush generation, the treatment they received, and the multi-generational effects of their presence. The arrival of the Windrush generation was an iconic moment that shaped modern Britain. But in 2018 their treatment caused a scandal as it came to light that many had been wrongly detained, denied legal rights and, in at least 83 cases, wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office. An unknown number lost their jobs or homes or were denied benefits or medical care to which they were entitled. A number of long-term UK residents were wrongly refused re-entry to the UK, and a larger number were threatened with immediate deportation by the Home Office.

Some 2,600 years ago, in 586 BCE, a similar  threat of expulsion became a reality for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Their homes were looted , the Temple where they worshipped God was destroyed by fire, and the population deported in waves to the far corners of the Babylonian Empire. BoneyM’s disco hit of the 1970s brought the experience of those forced immigrants into line with the reggae mindset of the Afro-Caribbean’s in the UK:

 
 
 

Lyrics Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept,
when we remembered Zion

When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
Now how shall we sing the
Lord's song in a strange land

 
 
 

Then in 70 CE, the same date, the 9th of Ab, saw the Roman Legions marching into Jerusalem and destroying the Temple by fire.

 
 

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70 by David Roberts

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez

 
 

How hungry will you be on August 11th? Forgo the barbecue bliss of a washout English summer and daven your way to despair and doom with the traditional celebration of Tisha B’Av, this year on August 10/11. For a full 25 hours eat nothing, don’t wash, wear no make up and have no sex – what’s not to like?

Mourning is a serious business. In Jewish life we rip our clothing when a loved one dies. Sackloth and ashes don’t make much of a fashion statement, but if you want to fit in the groove, you’ll express your sorrow for the destruction of the Temple by refraining from anything that gives pleasure or enjoyment, right down to the shoes you wear, which can not be made of leather.

After Yom Kippur, it’s the most solemn day of the Jewish year. It commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. According to Jewish tradition, The 9th of the month of Av (תשעה באב) saw five specific disasters at different periods in Jewish history.

  1. The Twelve Spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, while the others spoke disparagingly, and 40 years wandering in the desert and the death of that generation.

  2. The First Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BCE, and the population of the Kingdom of Judah was sent into the Babylonian exile.

  3. The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land that continues to this day.

  4. The Romans subsequently crushed Bar Kokhba's revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 500,000 Jewish civilians (approximately 580,000) on August 4, 135 CE.

  5. Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, in 135 CE.


The Edict of Expulsion was a royal decree issued by King Edward I of England on 18 July 1290 expelling all Jews from the Kingdom of England. Edward advised the sheriffs of all counties he wanted all Jews expelled by no later than All Saints' Day (1st November) that year. The expulsion edict remained in force for the rest of the Middle Ages. The edict was not an isolated incident, but the culmination of over 200 years of increased persecution. The edict was overturned during the Protectorate more than 350 years later, when Oliver Cromwell permitted Jews to return to England in 1657.

As Jewish people we have a long history and long memories. We need to stress not just the times of mourning and lament, but the times of rejoicing and renewal. In the Messiah we have not only new life, but a new start, and the promise of restoration for all that has been lost, through the resurrection of Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, from the dead. He and his soon return give hope to the downcast, and take away the tears of those who mourn. 

For our friends and families, especially in the UK at this time, Tish B’Av is a time of fasting, study of the Books of Job, Jeremiah and Lamentations, as we seek hope in difficult times. Five ordinances typify the mood of solemnity and grief:

  1. No eating or drinking;

  2. No washing or bathing;

  3. No application of creams or oils;

  4. No wearing of (leather) shoes;

  5. No marital (sexual) relations.

May they know the ‘consolation of Israel’ (Luke 2:25) who turns our mourning into joy. (400 words) 

When I saw the documentary “The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files”, I wept. On Tish B’Av I also weep, sharing in the mourning of my people at their manifold misfortunes – our exile from our Land, our loss of the Temple, all the tragedies that have come upon us, culminating in the Shoah. But most of all I mourn for the loss of our Messiah. He also experienced life as an exile, unwelcome and rejected by those who came to live amongst, serve and add value to their lives. As Karl Barth wrote: “The  way of the Son of God into the far country” (CD 4/1/157), Yeshua came into a world that did not welcome him or accept him, but rather rejected him and expelled him.

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)

For disciples of Rabbi Yeshua, only his passage through the waters of death and resurrection can comfort those who mourn at the “rivers of Babylon” and the “rivers of blood”.

 
JFJ UK