On Chaim Bermant

In Hampstead Garden Suburb and its environs, it was only with great fortune that you could actually find a copy of the Jewish Chronicle on that terrible Friday. It was a measure of the affection in which he was held.

Chaim was different. He was no gossip columnist, but a Jewish writer permeated by tradition and of course, a great humourist, but it was a willingness to challenge accepted truths and wisdoms, which made him so special, so Jewish. As it says in pirkei avot,

Be on your guard against the ruling power, for they who exercise it draw no man near to them except for their own interests; appearing to friends when it is to their own advantage, they stand not by a man in the hour of need.

There are few that manage to retain their  ideals and sense of direction throughout their lifetime — and yet Chaim pushed out copy, week in, week out, for 30 years, challenging, praising, condemning, whilst always retaining his balance. A remarkable achievement for any writer.

As editor of the Jewish Quarterly and now of Judaism Today, Chaim never failed to respond to my request to contribute an article or a review.

But it was Chaim’s stand on Israel that I admired. Countless years before Rabin shook Arafat’s hand on the White House lawn, he wrote about the need for dialogue and reconciliation with the Palestinian enemy. He castigated those worshippers of false gods who preached extremism whether they were Israeli politicians, eminent rabbis or Diaspora grandees. In Israel, along with Amos Oz, Alef-Bet Yehoshua, David Grossman and the others, he would have been greeted as a respected writer who used his pen in the cause of peace. In England, however, he was constantly condemned by the Board of Deputies and a host of Jewish organisations for not following the communal line in supporting each inane twist and turn from Jerusalem. Indeed, a petition was circulated in the early 1980s, which called for his dismissal from the Jewish Chronicle.

Chaim did not live to see the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Jewish State. One can only guess at the brilliant pieces that would have trickled from his pen. He and I were scheduled to share a platform together in May — a discussion on Israel that will now be deficient in every way.

Like so many others, I will continue to look for that familiar face which will now always be absent — a truth-teller who eloquently expounded each week what was important. His passing is above all a moral loss for Anglo-Jewry. The finest tribute to the memory of this honest man, which we can pay, is to work unceasingly for the causes, which he passionately advocated.

Judaism Today Spring 1998

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