Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Rachel Riley is a British game show host. With her blond hair and Irish surname, no one would have ever suspected she was a Jew. That is until Corbyn’s star rose, and the antisemites began crawling out of the woodwork to troll and attack her. The hate triggered something in Riley and she felt she had to speak out—to speak up for her people, for Israel. Even though her Jewish identity had never been strong. Even though she’s never been political.

She spoke about this on a recent Channel 4 talk show (and wrote about it here):

Host: So what is your own Jewish identity?

Rachel Riley: Well, you know. Probably line 1 or line 2 of my Wikipedia entry. I mean, I'm not spoken about being Jewish. My surname is Riley. You know, you wouldn't know I'm, I don't look like a typical Jew or anything like that but I've always said, I've always been open.

You know my mom's Jewish and my dad's Man[chester] United and that's my identity. I'm an atheist, but I'm proud of my heritage.

You know, when we have the family around my mom would do a lovely bagel spread with all the Ashkenazi. . . the foods. I called my granddad my “Zayde.” We would go to shul once a year for Yom Kippur, for prayers for the dead. Not religious Jews just, just, just cultural.

Yeah, not even cultural particularly but I kind of like, I guess part of my Jewish identity’s is I've known about the Holocaust forever. It's been, always been on my radar and, and knowing that it doesn't matter about your religion, it doesn't matter what you believe, it doesn't matter what you do, having one Jewish grandparent, I felt like people felt entitled to be able to murder you and that has been part of my Jewish identity for a long time, and I thought like many others did that something like the Holocaust meant that antisemitism wouldn't exist anymore because you can see where it leads. You can see how bad it is . . .
Rachel Riley, it seems, had only been Jewish on the margins. She knew about the Holocaust, but that was about all she knew. She didn’t think she had to know anything else, because to her, the Holocaust was self-evident. That seminal event should have been the thing that obliterated antisemitism forever. “You can see how bad it is . . .”

But the thing is, Jeremy Corbyn and so many other British people don’t see how bad it is. They only pretend to see the Holocaust as a bad thing. And then they pretend some more, pretending that their hatred for Israel is not, in fact, antisemitism.  

Rachel Riley couldn’t leave their hatred unremarked. But she also realized that she couldn’t confront the antisemites. She was in no position to do so. Because she’d never cared about these things before. As a result, Rachel Riley was ignorant of her own Jewish history. She was ignorant about the events that led to the creation of the State of Israel, and the Jewish right to self-determination, to Jewish indigenous territory.

And so Rachel Riley was forced to educate herself.

Actually, no one forced her to do that. She really didn’t have to do that. Rachel Riley could have left things alone, stayed out of the fray.

And the truth is, she didn’t even want to do it, confront the antisemites, or talk about Israel at all:

It’s difficult because I don't want to talk Israel. I mean a lot of this is, it's just blazing antisemitism, but you get drawn into these conversations and again. I'm having to have so much knowledge that I didn't have before to combat it . . .

Something pulled at Rachel Riley during these confrontations and insults. Something triggered her inner Jew. Not in a religious way, but in a national way. This was her people. This simple truth tugged at her soul and made her do the right thing, made her examine and search:

I've searched so much because so many people are telling you that, you know, you're wrong and you're right, you know you're evil or whatever and you're like, am I missing something? So I've had to do so much research and, and, and to find out whether this has come from and really examined myself to see: am I blinkered?

No. You’re not blinkered, Rachel Riley. Israel is the good guy in this movie. And antisemitism is bad. Left unchecked, antisemitism escalates from words and ugly graffiti to violence and death.

Sometimes it’s one Jew speaking on his phone, minding his own business. At other times, it’s 11 in a synagogue in Squirrel Hill, or 6 million in Eastern Europe. But no matter the immediate or long term results, it all springs from the same well of xenophobia, immorality, jealousy, and hate.

Which leads to a conundrum: in a perfect world, there would be no antisemitism. It leads to the shedding of Jewish blood, nothing more. But watching Rachel Riley’s epiphany, one wonders what it means. Did that, too, come out of hate?

Probably not.

It is said that every Jewish soul contains a spark. It can burn so low as to be almost extinguished, or be fanned into bright hot flames of religious and national feeling.

That Jewish spark had been in Rachel Riley’s soul all along, lying dormant, waiting to be fanned alive, or perhaps never to be so. But it was there.

It would be easier to see some cause and effect relationship in this story. It would be nice to think that hate can lead to something positive: a stronger identification with one’s people. It’s certainly possible these haters are God’s unintended instruments to bring His people closer to Him.

We like to find meaning in the worst of things. It helps us make sense of evil.

But the truth is, Rachel Riley’s Jewish spark had always been there right in her soul, had always been waiting for some air to feed the flame. Like Dorothy, Rachel Riley had always had the power to return home to her people. Once she figured it out, she embraced the truth.

And triumphed over hate.

It’s a win for our side.


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