Rabbi Marcus gets MBE for Shoah education

  • Rabbi Marcus
Former Rabbi Barry Marcus who recently received an MBE, made an impact on South African Jewry when he led Johannesburg's Waverley Shul in the 1980s. Now rabbi of the Central Synagogue in London, he is making similar ripples in England.
by LESLIE HARRIS | Mar 04, 2015

Pictured :Rabbi Barry Marcus MBE (left) has the award conferred on him by the Prince of Wales during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

He is the only rabbi among the 1 164 honoured in the Queen's New Year's list. Last week he was at Buckingham Palace, where the Prince of Wales invested him as a Member of the Order of the British Empire, in recognition of his contribution to Holocaust education.

In October last year he was knighted by the Polish government for his work in Holocaust education and fostering dialogue between the Jewish and other communities.

Rabbi Marcus dismisses as "dangerous" the suggestion that there is more anti-Semitism in Poland than in other countries. "When you do that, you fall into the trap of making wild generalisations about this group or that group and that doesn't help anybody.

"The truth of the matter is that there are more Polish people who have been recognised as 'Righteous Among the Gentiles' by Yad Vashem than any other nation in Europe."

It would be foolhardy to suggest that there are not people in Poland who harbour enmity towards the Jews. You probably can say that about any country, but you can't ignore the fact that Poland today is Israel's second-best friend, after Germany. Both countries vote in support of Israel."

Rabbi Marcus is not surprised at the current wave of anti-Semitism sweeping Europe. Whereas before, the hostility had been driven by Christians, today it is being driven by Muslims, who have co-opted the Christian rhetoric for their own purposes.

"They've dug up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Mein Kampff has now been translated into Arabic. They've adopted that and adapted it to use in different places."

There has, however, been a mutation in anti-Semitism over the years. "First they targeted our faith, then with the Nazis it was our race, and now it is the Jewish state that is being targeted. But it is all a guise, and we know that it is a guise."

Rabbi Marcus sees the attacks on Jewish communities in Europe as the natural consequence of unchecked Islamic extremism.

"In France, after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the guy that went into the supermarket made it quite clear that he wanted to kill Jews. That is being brushed aside because no one wants to actually deal with the reality. There's been a slow-drip irrigation pipe of anti-Semitism being allowed to flourish."

He sees education as the antidote to anti-Semitism. "You can't pretend that centuries of hatred didn't have an effect. It had an effect. And it continues to have an effect. Look at the effects that education had, so let's try to counter it by educating people in a much more positive way and to build bridges so that we don't have to face what we faced in the Second World War."

As part of that education, 15 years ago the rabbi pioneered the concept of a one-day visit to Auschwitz. "I chartered my own plane, took 250 people. We flew in the morning, spent time in Krakow, Auschwitz and Birkenau, then returned to London in the late evening. During the flight I showed videos of Jewish life in Poland before the war and videos of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945."

It soon became a sought-after programme, leading to a partnership with the Holocaust Education Trust. To date about 25 000 people have been on the trips, including prime ministers, teachers and groups of non-Jewish students over the age of 16.

"The response has been very positive and we encourage them to become ambassadors, to tell others what they've learned and so combat the spread of anti-Semitism."




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