Trafalgar Square Fills for Gala Marking 350 Years of British Jewry

Trafalgar Square filled with celebrants this week to mark 350 years of British Jewry. An estimated 25,000 people on Sunday visited Simcha on the Square, the centerpiece of the yearlong anniversary celebration.

The weeks leading up to the celebration had been fraught with problems. Increased security was necessary due to the recent rise in anti-Semitic activity in Britain. Also, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, or AJEX, cancelled its participation to protest the involvement of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a vehement critic of Israel who has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.

Simcha on the Square coordinator Geraldine Auerbach told JTA that despite recent concerns, “The security was very low-key.”

The London Metropolitan Police and the Jewish Community Security Trust worked together to ensure participants’ safety so “it still felt like an event that was free and open to anyone,” she said.

The involvement of Livingstone’s office wasn’t a recent decision, but it led AJEX to decide on Sept. 14 to boycott the event. Livingstone outraged the Jewish community last year by making what some considered anti-Semitic remarks to a Jewish newspaper reporter and then refusing to apologize, a decision that resulted in his suspension from office, which was stayed pending further appeal.

In light of the controversy surrounding the mayor, Livingstone had been pulled from the celebration schedule months ago, to be replaced by his deputy, Nicky Gavron. AJEX’s last-minute decision to withdraw likely was due to a Sept. 5 press release from Livingstone’s office proclaiming the mayor’s personal support of Simcha on the Square.

Despite these 11th hour glitches, the event “went beyond our dreams,” Auerbach told JTA. “To see beautiful signs up in Trafalgar Square, we just couldn’t picture in advance how that would make us feel. To have our event there in that setting, one of the most iconic spots in Britain, and to see Jews of all sects and other people all mingling and having a good time there, I think it was the best possible way we could have shown how the Jewish people have integrated into British society.”

The festivities included live Jewish music on the main stage, which was placed in front of the National Gallery.

The square was filled with information booths, Jewish goods and jewelry for sale and two kosher food stalls, which offered bagels and lox and “salted beef and chips” — a British take on corned beef and French fries.

“We’ve had a good day,” said Tova Grodzinski of Grodzinski’s Bakery. “Business has been brisk. We’ve sold a lot of bagels.”

The 24-year-old, the fifth generation of Grodzinskis in Britain, said her family arrived in Britain in 1888.

“My family opened the first kosher bakery in Britain,” she said.

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