After finishing what may only be described as an almost perfect tour, I had a day to make my way to central England. Instead of flying and taking buses and trains, I decided to hire a car and drive.
I love driving over here. On the left – and the idyllic winding country roads. After a quick stop in Dunbar, Scotland – I discovered the birthplace of John Muir – famous advocate for conservation and the US Park Service! That was a bit of luck. I don’t blame him for leaving, his austere Presbyterian upbringing was defined by beatings and lectures.
Once into England I headed to York. I have visited magnificent York many times and have even lead tours there, but had not been back for over 10 years. The city was just as beautiful, and on a Sunday, lively and fun.
Emperor Constantine (the one that really converted the Empire to Christianity) was in fact crowned in York. Then came the Danes and vikings in general – Jorvik (York) was the northern viking capital of Britain in 960.
My real motivation for stopping was to see Clifford’s Tower again. This Medieval Tower was the site of one of the most pronounced acts of antisemitism in Norman England. In light of the recent racist slaughter in Pittsburgh I thought a quick reminder about hate appropriate.
Jews from France had come to England after William conquered the Island. They were brought in as traders and early bankers. Typical of Western European lore, the Jews and money have long been synonymous. Let us remember, Jews were forced into finance as they were restricted from most other activities – including owning land.
Christians were restricted from money-lending and therefore European Jews were granted passage to England under a Royal Charter to finance construction and war.
Over course quickly They became Them.
Rather than exploring privileged, democratic and theocratic power, blame accompanied fervent Crusading and the masses of York rounded up the Jewish population of the city. Many Jews took their own lives rather than being burned alive.
Those who did promise to convert were killed all the same. The number killed in 1190 was at least 150 and up to 500. In 1290, 100 years later, Edward 1 passed an edict expelling all Jews from the kingdom. And there ends a potentially rich Jewish history in Britain.
Not everyone knows that period of British history, but most are aware of where Antisemitism took Europe. For reasons far beyond my comprehension, elements of antisemitism still occur in Europe (particularly in the increasingly totalitarian East and among some left-wing circles in places such as the British Labour Party and even Sinn Fein in Ireland).
In simple terms, antipathy towards the Jews of Europe was in some ways the first act of modern intolerance. They were THE minority and therefore to be blamed. Poor education, a theocratic elite and general intolerance all contributed. It all still does.
That evening, I made it to Nottingham and met a good friend at Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem – which claims to be the Oldest Inn in England. It was lovely and friendly and simply felt like history. The beer was good too! Of course what it remembers is the year Richard the Lion-heart – King of the Crusades – was crowned in 1189.
All of those events occurred hundreds of years ago, yet just this week 11 Jewish people were gunned down in Pittsburgh. Last year in Charlottesville, angry people with ridiculous Tiki torches chanted; “Jews will not replace us!” Even more astonishingly, their actions were defended at the highest levels of government.
I have enjoyed my time back on these islands immensely and always look forward to returning. History is important and there is no true ‘reset button.’ We really need to know where we have come from and what has happened in order to build the beautiful world we must all want to share.
Peace and love