In 2017 a small but vociferous group got together to protest the establishment of a new mosque in Golders Green, northwest London. Here’s Judy’s story of how that campaign unexpectedly changed her life…


I grew up in a bubble. Born and bred in Golders Green, I went to a Jewish primary school and Jewish high school, spent a gap year in Israel and besides for three years at university, where I kept mostly myself to myself, have worked in Jewish communal organisations ever since.

In October 2017 I started seeing posts on my Facebook timeline, asking me to sign a petition calling on Barnet Council to investigate the operations of a group who had recently purchased the historic Hippodrome building in Golders Green, with the aim of using it as an Islamic Centre. The petition claimed to be all about parking restrictions and planning regulations, but the undertones of bigotry were hard to ignore.  

The flood of posts assuming that, as a Jew who lives in Golders Green, I’d be certain to add my name, made me furious.  As Jews, we are more than familiar with the tactic of using environmental concerns to mask antisemitism when we try to open more schools and synagogues. How dare we use that same tactic against those of another faith?

I wrote as much on my Facebook timeline and made the post public. While many people spoke up to agree with me, I got a lot of comments that were less friendly. “When Europe opened its doors to the refugees recently, let's just have a look how that panned out for them,” said one acquaintance, apparently forgetting that we were talking about a facility for local residents, and no one had mentioned refugees. “We are frightened, as simple as that,” commented another. “Of course we have to dress it up as noise levels and pollution. There is a genuine concern of more extremism potentially being on our doorstep.”

The next day, for my trouble, I discovered that someone, presumably fired up by my post, had actually signed my name on the petition, along with my husband’s and several colleagues! It took a lot of hassle and several days to get them removed – and although the final result was that Barnet Council changed its petition verification procedures, I was shocked at the lengths people would go to, to keep the mosque away from Golders Green.

And just like that, my little Jewish bubble had been burst. I felt like ranting wasn’t enough – I wanted to do something. Rather fortuitously, it transpired that the Jewish-Muslim Women’s Network, Nisa-Nashim, was about to launch a chapter in Golders Green – and just four weeks later I found myself stepping through the doors of a local café to meet the other members of the group.

Judy at the first meeting of Nisa Nashim Golders Green, November 2017

We didn’t discuss particularly astounding things that first meeting – we’re all women, and like women everywhere, we talked about the things that bind us; our children, our jobs, our day to day lives. We live in the same community, but before that day in November most of us had never crossed paths. And now here we were – becoming friends.

I don’t feel that it’s much an exaggeration to say that joining Nisa-Nashim changed my life. In the last 20 months, I’ve volunteered as a schools’ speaker for the Faith and Belief Forum, organised an Interfaith Iftar with Jewish and Muslim friends at JW3, and been incredibly privileged to participate in the Senior Faith Leadership Programme run by ‘Faith in Leadership’ at St Georges House, Windsor Castle.

Interfaith work has become my passion. People in the strictly Orthodox community I belong to tend not to ‘get it’ – they simply don’t see the point. We’ll never agree on Israel, they say, so why bother? But as the late Jo Cox famously commented, we have so much more in common that that which divides us. That divisive petition has led me to forge deep and genuine friendships; these friendships make up the backbone of strong, united communities, and push back on the hate that threatens to fracture and divide our society. 

Some of the comments on the 2017 petition feared the Islamic Centre would introduce ‘violence and terrorism’ to Golders Green – but the truth is that most people haven’t even noticed it. And for me, Golders Green has become a much richer place to live.

 

Judy with some of the other Senior Faith Leadership Programme group in Windsor, June 2019