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Two Executive Committee members speak at Sefton Council's Holocaust Commemoration

28 January 2024

On Sunday 28 January 2024, Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council (in conjunction with the Association of Jewish Ex-Service Men and Women, and Sefton UNISON) organised a Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration event held in Christ Church on Lord Street, Southport, with the theme of "The Fragility of Freedom."

Two members of our Executive Committee travelled to Sefton to speak at the event, and their speeches can be read below.

The Master of Ceremonies was Michael Braham DL of Southport Synagogue. The speakers included:

Also present were Vice Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside Robert Owen JP DL, the Mayor of Sefton Cllr June Burns, and Peter Dowd (MP for Bootle.)

Group photo taken at the event.

Cllr Heather Fletcher's speech

Heather Fletcher speaking at the event.

Good afternoon, ladies, gentlemen and distinguished guests.

My name is Cllr Heather Fletcher. I have been a local councillor in Salford, Greater Manchester for 8 years, an Executive member of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester for 19 years and the Jewish Co Chair for the past 9 years. It is an honour to be invited to address you here today.

Today's theme, “The Fragility of Freedom," means different things to different people. In every genocide those who are targeted for persecution have had their freedom restricted and removed. Also, in every genocide there have been other people who risked their own freedom by helping others.

As mentioned in today's programme trouble started for Jewish people in the Netherlands in 1942 but in Germany and Austria a few years earlier. Their freedom was severely restricted by many anti-Jewish decrees. Anne Frank sets out a detailed list of freedoms restricted in her diary. As well as being forbidden to use public transport or even drive in their own cars, Jewish people were forbidden to go to theatres, cinemas, use swimming pools, tennis courts and hockey fields. They could only go shopping at certain times and could not visit Christians in their homes. These are all activities that we totally take for granted today.

Anne states in her diary "only now do I realise how pleasant a tram is but we Jews are no longer allowed to make use of this luxury."

How do we preserve freedom today? I believe that often genocides start through mass ignorance. It is ignorance which gives rise to intolerance and bigotry. We all have a duty to challenge all bigotry and racism at the outset as it does not take much for this kind of rhetoric to develop into discrimination, segregation and ultimately genocide. We should ensure that the voices of the tolerant be the clearest and loudest voices.

How does our Muslim Jewish Forum help to combat bigotry and intolerance? I believe that when people mix together as they do at our MJF events and learn about each other's faiths and cultures the "unknown" becomes the "familiar" and people become more open minded and are less likely to be bigoted.

In the past 19 years our MJF has organised 146 diverse events bringing together Muslims, Jews, and people from other faiths from all over Greater Manchester who otherwise would not have met. The events have ranged from picnics, kosher meals, iftars and concerts to more serious lawyers panel debates. Although our events are largely social, I think that better community relations are fostered when people mix together, eat together, and enjoy themselves together, rather than learn in a purely educational setting.

To conclude, I believe that we can help to preserve our freedom by becoming a more cohesive and harmonious society and this can be achieved by people of different faiths and cultures mixing together, getting to know each other, and forming friendships. We need a society where it is second nature to mix with other people whose way of life, faith and culture may be different to our own. I believe this can happen. As Anne Frank said: "I believe that in spite of everything people are truly good at heart."

Qaisra Shahraz's speech

Qaisra Shahraz speaking at the event.

Good afternoon, Salaam and Shalom. I am delighted to join you this afternoon. Thank you for your kind invitation to take part in this special day.

I have spent over 20 years in promoting harmony between people of different faiths, particularly between Muslims and Jews. MACFEST, the festival I have set up as a response to the Arena Attack in 2017 and Islamophobia, was to promote better relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims. 4 members of my team are Jewish. My best professor at university was Jewish, Louis Kushnick.

As an executive member of the Muslim Jewish Forum, I have continued on that journey ardently. It’s been my pleasure in interacting with the Jewish community - it has enriched my life - resulting in lasting friendships with dinners in each other’s homes for example – going on trips together, visiting synagogues and mosques together – focussing on our commonalities and there are so many between Islam and Judaism. I have visited many synagogues around the world including Melbourne’s gorgeous synagogue.

I learnt about the Holocaust during our Muslim Jewish Forum’s visit to the concentration camps in Birkenau and Auschwitz – it transformed my life – I was simultaneously traumatised and dehumanized by the experience - visiting the gas chambers, the halls with remains of human hair and shoes of victims – it was so, so distressing – I came away telling my family that they had to visit.

I witnessed the pain of our friend June whose relatives had perished in those gas chambers. As an author – I was compelled to write a story about the Holocaust. it’s in this book – entitled Train to Krakow. It is about a young pregnant woman called Ella – travelling to Krakow with her daughter and mother – little realising she was heading for the chambers.

Fragility of freedom.

This year’s theme is ‘The Fragility of Freedom’. President Ronald Reagan once said – ‘Freedom is fragile.’ Indeed, it is, and we definitely can’t take it for granted – How right he was.

Freedom is something we hold so dear, so precious – but for many it is so difficult to attain – Freedom to speak, to act, to walk out of one’s door in fact and live in a safe, stable environment.

Having the human right-the freedom to live a normal life, the freedom to speak and stand up against injustice and not be afraid.

Think of the journalists persecuted in many countries for speaking up – think of those Afghani women denied education - their freedom curtailed – think of places where people are victimised, unable to voice their pain, unable to move from one place to another.

For many that freedom, for whatever reasons or contexts is very fragile indeed.

What does that mean for us as individuals who enjoy freedom?

We need to fight for our freedom as our human right.

The freedom we want for ourselves – we should want for others and not turn a blind eye to it – their pain – their suffering, We need to keep our conscience alive to fight injustice.

In troubled times like the present, we need to promote harmony between people of different faiths, races and ethnicity. Respect our differences.

We need to promote equality, that all human beings are equal and need to be treated with dignity and respect, and their human rights both valued and upheld.

We need to be kind - challenge hatred in all its form - our slogan for MACFEST is ‘Spread Honey Not Hate.’ We are committed to challenging Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism.

We must never forget the victims, including those who perished in the concentration camps.

We must learn from the past, from the pain of those perished in genocides like the Holocaust and the Bosnian Genocide. To how we treat the present.



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The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester
Established to develop the cultural and social ties between the Muslim and Jewish Communities of Greater Manchester

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