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Antisemitism has doubled in Britain in the last six years. We need your help

It is at its highest level since records began

When I was seven years old, my friends and I were told we weren’t allowed to play on the grass outside our synagogue any more.

Nobody told us why, and to us it didn’t make sense. Why weren’t we allowed to play there anymore? It’s the same old piece of grass we were playing on last week and the week before.

You can imagine how confused we were, children of less than 10 years old, when within a week after a three-metre-high fence appeared around the entire perimeter of the synagogue as well. We didn’t understand what was going on, but we had lost our place to play AND now had a big ugly fence on it too, and we didn’t understand why.

Part of me is glad that I was young and naive enough to not understand. I loudly complained to my parents and to people at the synagogue about how I couldn’t play outside anymore, and knowing now that they simply couldn’t tell me why breaks my heart.

Soon, more things happened that a child simply doesn’t understand. Announcements started being made: don’t stand outside of the synagogue at any time. When leaving the synagogue, walk straight from the door to your car without stopping or talking to anyone. A new intercom system appeared on the front door of the synagogue, with cameras so we could see who was outside.

I let this all wash over me. I was too young to get it, and I lived in Britain, which is a safe country for Jews, so no harm would come to us, right?

Then, when I was 11 years old, in a school changing room, another boy in my class comes up to me. We had been talking about Judaism in RE lessons, and the most recent lesson had covered the Holocaust. He screams into my face: "Auschwitz! Where all your stupid little Jews were killed!"

I remember being so shocked at the time, but still too young to understand it, and still too young to understand what 'antisemitism' was. The concept of people hating me just because I was, well, me, seemed totally alien. It didn’t make any sense.

I understood fully what antisemitism was when, aged 14, I was assaulted by a group of football fans on a train for being Jewish. I remember in that moment, as they poured beer over my head and chanted antisemitic slogans, feeling beyond just scared, but feeling unwelcome, as if I was somehow foreign or unacceptable in the country I have lived all my life in.

That feeling stalks you – even now whenever I talk about antisemitism, or whenever I have conversations with people I don’t know well about being Jewish, I feel the same anxiety and fear creeping in that I felt then. I can feel it now typing these words. I hope that nobody reading them ever has to experience it.

The most harrowing thing of all is that the year the fence was put up around my synagogue, there were 375 antisemitic incidents in Britain. The year I suffered that abuse in the changing room, there were 561. The year I was attacked on the train, there were 608. In 2017, there were 1,382.

I don’t know a single Jewish person who isn’t scared of what has happened over recent years. Synagogues in Exeter, Gothenburg and Paris have been firebombed. In 2012, a gunman killed four people in a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, including three children under the age of 10. The youngest was three.

Antisemitism has stopped being a fringe belief or idea. Research shows that 36% of British adults believe at least one antisemitic stereotype, and 39% of British Jews conceal their Judaism in public. One in three British Jews have considered leaving the country because of the worsening situation.

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Student life isn't immune from this either. Antisemitic graffiti was sprayed in student areas of York last week. A member of the NUS National Executive Committee was forced to resign over antisemitic remarks. Neo-Nazi and fascist groups have increased activity, with stickers of the banned terrorist group National Action spotted on campuses across the UK.

For these reasons and more, student Jewish societies – including the one I am president of here in Sheffield – don't publicise the locations of their events for fear of potential threats.

I can only spell this out very simply: the Jewish community in Britain needs your help, more than it has in a long time.

We don't want to feel scared walking down the street while being identifiably Jewish. We don't want to have to hide ourselves away behind 3 metre high fences. We just want to exist and feel safe in the country we've lived in our entire lives and are proud to call home.

What you can do to help us is simple. When you hear people making antisemitic remarks or jokes, call them out on it. If you see a Jewish person being abused or attacked in public, help them. If you see antisemitism being dismissed as a smear, a non-issue or some kind of media conspiracy, don't let yourself be tricked into believing it.

And if a Jewish person tells you something is scaring them or making them uncomfortable, listen to them.

'Conspiracy Theory: A Lizard's Tale', an event hosted by Sheffield Jewish Society, takes place next month. More information can be found here.