How would you describe your religious beliefs and identity?
Traditionally, Jewish. Both my parents were Jewish and from a traditional Jewish background and it was just the way I was brought up. My mother came out of Berlin in 1938 on Kristallnacht, she had ongoing psychiatric problems throughout her life (severe ones at times) as a result of having been stoned in Germany and been treated badly. My grandfather was interned in the Island of Mann. So that’s the sort of background there. We never talk about Germany, I’ve only found out bits and pieces from it. But that has strengthened my wanting to have an identity I suppose. So that is my mother’s side. My father’s side my grandmother came over after the Pogroms at the turn of the 20th century, when she was about 12 to escape Russia. She had already been working in Russia as a seamstress, she came over, scraped together a living. When back to Russia to bring over her younger brother at the age of 14 or so, and developed a tailoring small business. Her brother became some sort of professional. She married my grandfather who already had one son from his previous marriage (his first wife had died in childbirth). She gave birth to four sons, the eldest of which was my father. They were all professionals. My father decided to be a pharmacist to help with the education of his three younger brothers who were all GPs, retired now. So there was that sort of heritage and strength of character, that I have always admired. Although I say I am a traditional Jew, we are all hypocrites whatever we are. I like the cultural aspects of it. I like the identity. We’ve been strongly affiliated in South Manchester, we were asked to help start with a synagogue in South Manchester. We were very much involved and very much believed in giving our kids that identity. It’s up to them at the end of the day. I didn’t want to push it at them, but there was a strong cultural identity. Even though our kids no longer live at home, we still keep Friday night my husband and I. We tend not to go out. Yes to friends, but we wouldn’t go to the theatre. I think in the nearly 40 years we’ve been married I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been really out on a Friday night, except on holidays.
Does ‘traditional’ amount to Orthodox?
Yeah, I keep a Kosher home. We do now have take-aways at home, but I have separate plates for those take-aways. I am not saying that the rabbi would come and eat off out plates but he would certainly use our glassware and things like that. But I wouldn’t have our rabbi round for supper, unless I brought in food specially for him. But for most traditional Jews, that would be sufficient. But not the really religious ones.
Would you describe GB as an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?
The short answer is probably yes, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. It’s a very personal perspective rather than a legal one. If my grandparents were not allowed into Britain, we wouldn’t be here. From a Jewish perspective there is Anti-Semitism. I am certainly not talking about the university here, I am just talking generally. I’m an English Jew, rather than a Jewish English woman. I think that the prejudice we encounter is due to a lack of understanding. There is still a lot of anti-black feeling and intolerance, and that really upsets me. I wish that I could do more. Then you have HRs issues about equal pay, there is still a glass ceiling for women in the legal profession. Is that HR or prejudice?
Are there any challenges to living in accordance with your faith, and if so, are they social, political or legal?
Not legal, other than it is quite difficult for a Jewish person to get a religious divorce, but that is more religious bodies than the civil one. Generally I can only reiterate I have not met any prejudices or legal issues. But then I don’t go looking for them. I respect other people and expect to receive respect in return. I feel quite proud that 4 out of my 5 children (and the fifth is not in a relationship) have married Jewish partners and send their children for Jewish education, whether or not they keep a Kosher home. We’ve been allowed to do that but how this country has always been.
How does Judaism regard HR?
We all talk about the Holocaust still. There have been God knows how many horrors since, but that has been a constant reminder to the world, it always come back to that. But that has brought on Anti-Semitism, some people insult us by denying it. I think that the Jewish people are a thorn in the side, a persecuted minority, but we can be a positive thorn.
Are universal HR a good or bad thing for British society?
Has to be good.
Does Judaism make a practical contribution to HR in contemporary Britain?
Not in the way you are talking. I’d like to think that we helped respect for other cultures to grow, because we have been here for so long. I’d like to think that we can show that as a minority group religion/race whatever, we have had the human right to continue and exist and make the most of our lives. We have been given equal rights for education and more, we are allowed to have Jewish schools. We have been given the right to practice, be ourselves, but be part of community along with everyone else.
Do you think that public authorities respect HR in GB?
I can only give an overview. I can only come back to the black community, I do think that there is prejudice against them. If I am comparing the black community to the Jewish, we are treated better. But having said that, go to East Manchester where you have a white, illiterate population of 45%. What HR have they got? It often seems to me the more successful the more rights you get. Going back to access to justice. Where are the HR in that? People with real family problems now haven’t got a right to free legal advice.
Do you think that the State gets the balance between freedom and protection right in intervening in the lives of citizens, especially where religion is concerned?
The trouble if the government is active, you are dependent on the government of the day. It draws attention to what should be a normal part of life, without too much government interference. I wouldn’t want more intervention in people’s religious practice, unless a lack of intervention was effecting HR in some way.
Do you think that living in a Parliamentary democracy makes it easier to live in accordance with your faith? Would you prefer another form of government?
No. Look at France, as a Jew I would uncomfortable to go to certain areas where the Jewish community live in Paris, much as I like going to France. I don’t feel uncomfortable in the UK, thanks to the protection we have. For example, we had a big police van outside our synagogue for Yom Kippur, and we are allowed to have our own security as well. I don’t think that that would happen in a codified place like France.
Would you like to see the judiciary empowered to strike down primary legislation?
Depends who the judiciary are? Are they all Oxbridge educated and ignorant of the real world? Do we want them to have more powers to strike down things they don’t understand? I know that the judiciary are working on diversity. But I am not sure what the right answer is, but you would have to be careful.
Is majoritarian democracy a problem for minority groups?
Do, I think the reverse really.
Democracy? Should be the freedom to be yourself. Forget codification. In my own simplistic world, whether you are gay, black, white, whatever.
Do you think it a problem that the House of Lords is un-elected.
Yes. But I am a traditionalist, and we have to be careful not to change too much when it is working. If we take away too much of what has made us democratic, will we lose what has made us democratic?
What do you think of bishops in the House of Lords? Should there be other faith groups there as well?
How many other different faiths could be represented? I am first generation on my mother’s side and second on my father’s……it has been impressed on me in my upbringing that this was a Christian country. Take away the people on the extreme of the faith, we are trying to work together. Sacks was talking to the bishops and other religious leaders. But how could you have all of the different religions? How many for each religion? Perhaps there should always be an element of people there because of what they have done, but no formal representatives.
Can the Church of England bishops speak on behalf of people of your faith?
No! How can a bishop understand what a Friday night means to a Jewish person? Or things which are important to other religions. You can’t be all inclusive.
Do public authorities try to express the will of Parliament expressed in legislation?
No it’s not!
What does Judaism teach about people with power and the ways in which they should be held to account?
Our religion is about respect and morals in everyday life. Yom Kippur is a fast day of reflection. There are sections on business and family relationships. We represent the Jewish people too in our dealings with the outside world. We feel that we are part of the wider community and therefore we should be accountable and they should be accountable. If you speak to some fundamental Jewish people, they would give you a different answer. My section of Judaism though feels that we are part of society, with give and take and mutual obligations.
Are Jewish people appropriately and proportionately represented in Parliament?
Ed Milliband? We’ve given every opportunity to be so. It is whether we want to go down that path, there is no bar for us to be there.
Is there enough distance between our judiciary and politicians?
That’s not a religious question! I know a lot of judges now I am getting older. From the ones I know, I think that they keep their distance from politicians. The judges I know have got their own their own merits. They want to administer the law to be fair to everyone.
How should the exercise of power be regulated? What checks and balances should there be?
We vote…….we are a democracy. Are we becoming too American? Are our politicians becoming personalities? I do think that the general public look more and more at personalities and policies. The policies are quite similar anyway since New Labour.
How does the Jewish community challenge problems which it perceives as problematic?
There has been an issue recently about ritual slaughter. We came together with the Muslim community for that. I wish that we did that more often. I suppose being democratic as well. Are we supported enough when somebody comes over from Israel and that are stopped from speaking on campus? That is where you see elements of prejudice coming in. There is though a conflation of Israeli/Jewish things in many minds.
Do public authorities have a good understanding of Jewish needs and are they met?
Education yes……NHS yes, Kosher food has been available when I have been in a healthcare setting. Most encounters which have involved me personally and could be seen as Anti-Semitic have more to do with ignorance than anything else. When I was doing my equivalent of the LPC many years ago, I got very friendly with this posh English girl and we were best mates, but she didn’t realise I was Jewish until she came back to my house for a Friday night. When I said I was Jewish she said ‘But you are normal!’ I just thing that there is ignorance, especially among the older generation. There is an idea out there among them of what a Jew is like.
Is it important always to act within secular law?
Can’t think in particular, but I am an English Jew. For me secular law would have to have priority. I belong to the wider community I try to give a lot, but it has given me and my family a lot too.
Are Jewish groups campaigning for any legal changes?
Little things, but there is also something going on. A local example, for the really religious Jews, you won’t walk further than 3 hours on a Jewish festival or a Sabbath. To deal with that there are eruvim, and it can be very difficult to get approval from local councils for these things. Relatively minor issues, but they can become bigger. Resentment can build up on both sides. The council feel we are being difficult, and then people start saying that the world bends over backwards for Muslims. Why are we accommodated, we are not terrorists. I don’t approve of that attitude myself. I can get frustrated with the really frum lot sometimes.
Do your beliefs require you to speak out for vulnerable third parties?
Yes! Absolutely, of course. I do stuff like that at university. I feel privileged…..I am not trying to sound saintly. But I realise that I am very lucky and want to respect that.
How do you feel about the police being given exceptional powers to suspend usual elements of due process and the rule of law?
I don’t approve. Except where there is an exceptional terrorist threat, above and beyond the usual. Emergencies.
Are there any legal rules which you find restrictive?
No. I just haven’t noticed anything. My husband and I are both professionals, but you have had a UK education, so have seen things in different fields who have met prejudices.
Is there anything else which you would like to add?
I think that there has been a change over the last year. International events have really effected people’s prejudices. I wonder how long I can keep my rose colours glasses on. I do fear for my grandchildren and perhaps children. I fear that we may feel that we have to leave. We very nearly did leave when there was the Shatila Massacre in Lebanon all those years ago, I think that we had four of our five children then. We thought about emigrating to Israel. We lived in quite an English area, and you would go into shops and conversations would stop. So I did feel it then. The only reason that we didn’t go, was that our three boys are close in age, which would mean that they would all be eligible to go to the army at the same time. Only one of those would be chosen to go to the front line. And how as a parent do you do that? But that is how seriously we felt about Anti-Semitism then. So it could happen again, Anti-Semitism has increased. I feel a change…..not on a personal level, but how do I know who is speaking behind my back? My earlier answers were how I have always felt. But, maybe that could change.
Dinah Crystal qualified in 1974, then practised in high street legal aid until 1990, specialising in family law and domestic violence. She set up the Manchester Gingerbread office, and was a director of the national youth organisation from 2012-2015.
She established the Legal Advice Centre, championed and led on a number of organisations across Greater Manchester, and in 2008 she was granted an OBE for contributions to Pro Bono in the North West.