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Romain the Remainer on Brexit

‘We are suffering,’ says Rabbi Jonathan Romain in his latest book, ‘from a culture of yobbism’

07 April, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

YOBS have taken over the world. And we are currently suffering from a resurgent phase of hating all people, not a return to Nazi-inspired anti-semitism or attacks on Muslims and others.

That is the view of Reform Rabbi Jonathan Romain, author, at 62, of Confessions of a Rabbi, an unexpected tome since the Talmud sees confession as an act of atonement between a Jew and God – without anyone else present.

In the fraught times we live in – he faced isolated incidents of anti-semitism at his prep school and at University College School, in Hampstead – he insists: “I’m a bit phlegmatic about anti-semitism’s appearance now, as I see it as a rise in anti-everything. We are suffering from a culture of yobbism, plus people determined to be anti-people.

“And in a way that it is being encouraged, unfortunately by Brexit and by Donald Trump and Ukip. We seem to have retreated from the idea of society pulling together and have become much more ghettoised in our mentality. It’s very regressive.

“And it shows that under all the political advantages we have now there has always been this destructive human nature problem, a phase where people are naturally prejudiced and suspicious of others.

“Civilisation has done its best to sort of rub it out but every now and then it resurfaces, in cyclical fashion like history repeating itself, and troubles us again. I am not seriously worried because it’s individuals, it’s down to yobs.”

Nevertheless, he admits that anti-semitism “left its mark on me”, initially at prep school where well-known bullies shouted Jewish taunts and though they jumped on him, it was not before he made “sure a couple of them had a punch in the face before I went down”.

Then, at UCS, which he fondly remembers as a happy time, he recalls one particular bully who opened a window and shouted to everyone else in class: “God, this place stinks of kosher meat!”

He also once visited a primary school where the children played a game called Hunt the Jew. “It was like children dancing to Ring a Ring o’Roses without any awareness of its connection to the Black Death – except in this case it was much less innocent in its effect,” Rabbi Romain points out.

He wanted to become a Rabbi from an early age, having come from a Sephardic background. It was an idea that grew and grew despite his surveyor father warning him he would spend his life in an ivory tower, outside the real world.

That has proved totally untrue as he has become immersed in the real and varied problems working in the human jungle – as a radio agony aunt, postman, prison chaplain and even nightclub bouncer, as well as becoming involved in issues like Brexit.

Of that he says: “I was in favour of the original exodus out of Egypt but not this one. People didn’t actually vote for it. They voted for something completely different and as a Remainer I’m nervous of what is going to come out of us leaving the EU.

“I can only see it ending in tears because I can’t see the EU letting us go without penalising us, if only to encourage the other countries to stay in. And therefore we are going to come out worse than when we went in.”

Since this is his 16th book, he has much to reveal about the roller-coaster life he led before becoming a Rabbi. Shattering emotional and moral traumas that sound more like fiction, hijacked weddings, sexual sins and fantasies, infidelities and even multiple murders have too often engulfed him.

Yet his tales, almost like ancient fables, are told with a wonderful warm, wit and wisdom, dilemmas you can delve into at different levels, germane at bedtime, on bus, train or plane. They come from his own helter-skelter life, as well as from his experiences as the Rabbi since 1980 at Maidenhead Synagogue, where he cares for a congregation of 800.

He recalls the 12th century Sephardic philosopher Rabbi Moses Maimonides saying that even if there were only two Jews in the world Judaism wouldn’t collapse because human ingenuity is such that the race will always survive.

He adds: “Every generation likes to think it is the last. But I’m an optimist by nature and, although I think Brexit is the wrong decision, we’ll always find a way to muddle through.”

Confessions of a Rabbi. By Jonathan Romain, Biteback, £12.99

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