I had a conversation this morning with my 5-year-old son that went like this: “Mum, at school when the fire alarm rings, I’m going to hide.”
“No darling, that’s dangerous, please go outside with your teachers so they know you’re safe.”
“No, Mum, the teachers will be hiding with us.”
After much deliberation and soul searching during the school application procedure, I had previously made the decision to send my son to a Jewish primary school. This was an unusual move for me. Although I am Jewish, I’m not religious and I mix freely within every culture and community in London. Our school is an open-minded, small, state primary school with a mix of non-Orthodox Jewish and secular pupils. Many of the children attending also have a parent who is Jewish and a parent who is not. Last summer, when the local Bravanese Muslim Centre was burned down after becoming the target of a hate crime directed against the Muslim community, our school opened its doors and enabled the children from the Bravanese Centre to use the school.
Over the last few days, there has been much speculation in the press about whether or not the Jews do or should feel afraid. When I heard the chilling news of the tragic deaths at Charlie Hebdo and then the kosher supermarket, I, like many others I’ve since read about, broke down in tears over the pain and suffering caused, but there were also tears of fear that I had never imagined would become part of my psyche.
There are 64 million residents in the United Kingdom, made up of 37.2 million practicing some form of Christianity, 2.79 million Muslims and most of the remainder in the census who would have answered as secular. The total Jewish population is around 270,000, about 0.5 percent of the UK population. When your numbers are this small, feeling vulnerable may not be such a long shot. We are a resilient bunch and I’m a very proud Scot, my family having arrived in Glasgow in 1891 from Zagare, a small town close to Riga, when Lithuania was under Russian rule. I love living in the UK; this is my home and where I belong.
I cannot speak for others but I do know that this morning, after the casual conversation with my son about the “fire drill,” when I received an email from the school, saying they had completed their “invacuation”/lockdown drill, a little piece of my heart broke.
Georgia Wolfson is a sculptor, writer and charity worker living in London.