OPINION: British Jews and Indians working side-by-side rather than just face-to-face - Jewish News

11 November 2022

Setting out on a rain-wept Sunday morning to celebrate the planting of trees is not a run of the mill experience, but that’s exactly what happened last weekend. A group of us from the British Indian Jewish Association gathered at Canons Park in north London to mark the occasion. We were joined by the Mayor of Harrow, Cllr Janet Mote, who was particularly impressed by the project, remarking: “It is wonderful to see faith groups working together in Harrow; as well as enhancing our environment, this initiative also strengthens the fabric of society.”

The project was part of the Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC), originally conceived as part of the Platinum Jubilee, and which has now morphed into a tribute project for the late Queen. Given the inclement weather for our event, it felt like “long to reign over us” was as much a line from the weather forecast as from the National Anthem! As a result of the QGC, over one million trees were planted in the first planting season up to March this year, and there are still four months to go in this planting season.

We planted seven trees several months ago, one for each of the decades of the Queen’s historic 70-year reign.

Why did BIJA do this? We were founded over 25 years in a spirit of friendship between our two communities. Together, we believe that our relationship should not only benefit both sides but also have a positive impact on wider society. We want to bring benefit and blessing to Britain. One of our strands of work is social action, whether it be food relief, countering Covid or green projects.

During the pandemic, we raised well over £120,000 for Covid relief efforts in India. Knowing that the landmark Platinum Jubilee was approaching, we decided to participate in one of the official projects by “planting trees for the Jubilee.” We think that a tree is a powerful metaphor for our work. As communities, we need to be rooted in our identity, but also grow upwards and outwards, recognising our role as active and proud British citizens.

This project is a template for two communities working together. It is what Rabbi Sacks termed side-by-side rather than face-to-face relations. It is this type of engagement which really animates and excites the younger generation. Together, we are repairing the cracks in society, or perhaps even rebuilding it.

Judaism teaches about the importance of care for the environment. This is replicated in the great faiths of Hinduism and Sikhism, which constitute the religion of the overwhelming majority of the 1.5 million British Indians. In Jewish teaching, planting trees is encouraged. There is even a special festival dedicated to trees and the liturgy – whether the Torah, daily prayers or the Psalms – is full of references to trees. In the Book of Genesis, we read about trees in the Garden of Eden and that Adam and Eve ate from the wrong tree.

The Jewish and Indian communities share so much in common. We have similar values when it comes to investment in education, belief in hard work and enterprise as well as respect for the elderly. It is amazing how often we hear members of each community express admiration for the other.

Planting trees together seemed a positive and worthwhile thing to do, especially in an area with significant Jewish and Indian populations. The fact that our gathering coincided with the first day of the COP-27 Summit in Egypt, where leaders are discussing our commitment to tackling climate change, seemed particularly apposite. We hope that the trees we have planted grow and flourish, and are a symbol of the friendship between our two communities, which can serve as a boon for the whole of the country.

The late Queen and King Charles at the launch of the Queen’s Green Canopy.

Pic 1 (L to R): Dr Peter Chadha; Anil Rajani, Austen Garth; Mayor Janet Mote, Ezra Davies, Anne Moore, Zaki Cooper.

BIJA Commentary in the Sunday Times

Sun 6 Nov 2022

The 1.5 million strong Indian community have certainly made a significant contribution to the UK (30 Oct, Britain’s Hindus in numbers: smart, rich and very well behaved). As your report showed, they share many positive common characteristics with the Jewish community. Both communities have, to a large degree, managed to strike the delicate balance of integration without assimilation.

They have contributed to the arts and science, politics and the charitable sector and, in a substantial way, to the economy. Jewish businesspeople founded what became M&S, Tesco and Travelex, whilst Indian entrepreneurs have built up big businesses such as Vitabiotics, Mittal Steel and Cobra Beer. As it says in the West End musical Hamilton , “Immigrants We Get The Job Done.”

Dr Peter Chadha and Zaki Cooper


British Indian Jewish Association

BIJA Commentary in the Guardian

Tue 25 Oct 2022

The massive challenges facing Rishi Sunak should not blind us to the significance of Britain’s first prime minister from the Asian community (Editorial, 24 October). The first MP from the Asian community was Dadabhai Naoroji, originally from Bombay, who was elected in 1892 as the Liberal MP for Central Finsbury. He had lost an election for the seat of Holborn six years previously, and the prime minister at the time, Lord Salisbury, said that the constituents were not ready to have a “black man” as their representative.

Huge postwar migration sparked instances of racial discrimination and bias. The ill feeling towards these communities was encapsulated most famously in Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech in 1968. When 30,000 Ugandan Asians came to Britain after fleeing Idi Amin in 1972, they received a mixed welcome. But prejudices have been challenged and worn down over time. In the last election, in 2019, 65 MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds were elected.

The rise of British Asians in politics reflects the success and contribution of that community. At more than 4.3 million (6.9% of the population), the number of British Asians is projected to grow; the overall ethnic minority population in Britain is set to increase to 20% by 2051. It is critical that youngsters from minority communities have role models to look up to. Seeing a British Asian as prime minister will enable young Britons from all backgrounds to see that anything is achievable in 21st-century Britain.

Dr Peter Chadha and Zaki Cooper Co-chairs, British Indian Jewish Association

BIJA Committee Member receives OBE

Amrit Singh Maan, a long standing BIJA committee member, is among those named on the New Year’s Honours List 2022. Amrit has been awarded an OBE in recognition for his services to Charity and Community.

An unassuming philanthropist within the Sikh and many other communities, Amrit has been supporting charities and organisations that engage mostly with the homeless, the Armed Forces, and Heritage and the Arts for several years. He has sponsored almost £1m’s worth of meals to the British public, several landmark community events, exhibitions and talks, and since the pandemic began in March 2020, has provided over 200,000 meals to those in need.

In addition, as a solicitor he has provided pro bono assistance to hundreds of victims of crime and traumatic events and given free legal and business advice to small businesses and organisations to date. Responding, Amrit said:

  • I feel truly humbled to have received this honour for services to charity and community. Seva, selfless service, for the community has been the ethos of our family business since it was founded, and I accept this honour not just for me, but on behalf of the generations that came before me who made huge sacrifices, took chances, and shared their spirit with me.

Dr Peter Chadha, co-chair of the British Indian Jewish Association (BIJA) commends Amrit’s work, saying:

  • “We are delighted that Amrit Mann OBE joins Reena Ranger OBE, as our second committee member that has been honoured for their contributions to our British Indian & Jewish communities, where he has been contributing tirelessly; as well recognising his wide array of voluntary efforts in wider community.”

Response to Queen's Speech 2020

Letter published in the The Times by our co-chair Dr Peter Chadha


PRAISING THE QUEEN (Unabridged text)

Dear Sir/ Madam,

The Queen’s Christmas message was a multi-faith masterclass. It was addressed to people of all faiths and none facing the common scourge of Covid-19. At the start of her reign, the UK was a small overwhelming Christian country, with a Jewish minority, and some other small faith communities. The Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities already had small institutions – the first Sikh Gurdwara, for example, was founded in London in 1911, but had yet to build up their numbers. This happened in the post-War years, with migrations from Asian and African countries.

Nowadays, Britain is a multi-faith nation. The last census, in 2011, showed that approximately 10% of people belong to non-Christian faiths and this has been growing fast. The subtle references in the Queen’s Christmas broadcast recognise these changes, and serve to reinforce the ties between minority groups and the UK.