Don’t mention the Green

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At what point in their lives, do Jewish children learn that there are people who  don’t like them simply because they are Jews?  May be some learn this very early when they listen to the Purim story.  May be it happens when you are walking home alone from your Jewish school when a bully unexpectedly approaches you in the street because they have recognised your school uniform?  May be it happens  on your Greek Island holiday when you are barred from the Kid’s Club because you are wearing a Magen David around your neck?

My own awareness that we as Jews are recognisable to non-Jews and that some of them really don’t like us much, came when I was about eight years old.  Growing up in the Temple Fortune of the 1950s, I had until then no reason to believe that anybody would be nasty to me just because I was Jewish.  This cosy view of my little world changed for ever one evening when my father came home from work looking grey and angry.  This was so unlike his usual demeanour that my mother forgot to shoo me out of the room as he sat down heavily on a kitchen chair and told her what had happened on his way home.  The story I overheard struck a blow to my view of the world that has lingered until now in my memory.

On that evening, my father was, as usual, on a bus trailing northwards and homewards up Finchley Road from Childs Hill.  Accompanied by his friend, Mr Hogan, who took the same route, he was preparing to get out at Golders Green, to change onto a bus for Temple Fortune.   He was seated near the ‘bus conductor’ ; the person (usually a man) who collected fares, helped people on and off the bus and called out the name of approaching stops.  In exchange for your bus fare coins which he kept in a leather satchel, the conductor gave you a ticket which was essentially a strip of paper, similar to the paper that rolls out from credit card readers these days.  The ticket emerged from a weighty metal machine which the conductor carried strapped to a leather piece on his chest.

On the evening that changed my world, as the bus approached Golders Green, the conductor called out as usual ‘Golders Green, Golders Green’ and then added ‘All the Yids get out at Golders Green’.  My father, reared in the streets of the East End and character-formed by his wartime army service, leapt up and shouted at the conductor ‘How dare you?’   Undaunted, the conductor removed the metal ticket machine from his chest, and using the straps intended to secure the machine to his body, started swinging the machine aroundf.   Mr Hogan, being a Quaker and sensitive to threats of violence, ushered my father off the bus and away from certain injury.

Until that evening, I had no idea that Golders Green was also known by some as ‘Goldberg’s Green’ or that it was widely understood to be a centre of Jewish settlement.  These days when strangers ask me where I live, I never admit to ‘Golders Green’.  I  just say ‘Finchley’, a place which apparently is free of racist connotations about who lives there.


Margaret Harris is Professor Emerita, Aston University, Birmingham. She has published numerous books and articles on volunteering, charity management, charity boards, community cohesion, faith- based organisations and corporate philanthropy. Since retiring, she has served as a trustee of the Jewish Volunteering Network and has been writing memoir pieces about her 1950s childhood.
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