“It took a while to talk about religion... you don’t want to shove it down someone’s throat”
Danny Stone, 30, lives with his wife in Finchley, north London. Having grown up in the Masorti Jewish tradition, he now attends an Orthodox synagogue. He is the Director of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, a group of British Members of Parliament who committed to working against the hatred of Jews in its various guises, through informing debate and shaping public policy. Here he talks about an interfaith encounter at his office with a Muslim college.
It was a while before me and my colleague spoke about our faiths. You know, it’s hard. You don’t want to shove it done someone’s throat. We weren’t afraid of discussing it as such, but weren’t jumping to tell each other. I think it made it easier because I was doing this anti-Semitism work, so it was inevitable I was going to end up talking about Jewish stuff at some point.
I remember the first time ‘religion’ came up. I felt really insensitive because I’d asked if she wanted to come for lunch when it was Ramadan. I hadn’t even thought about it. And she said ‘oh, actually I’m fasting’ and I felt terrible. Especially because there’s a number of fasts throughout the Jewish calendar - the major one is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement - and I know how difficult it is when other people are eating around you. Even walking past a shop with food on display is really difficult.
So I felt awful for having brought it up, but she was really cool about it. I think that prompted me to be more cognisant of what she was going through and aware of what was happening.
But there were also times during Ramadan where she wasn’t fasting, and was dealing with the challenges of what she should be doing. And of course I try and keep Shabbat, but there’d be times where I’d broken it (not observed the Sabbath) and felt bad about it. So we had this very weird dynamic where we had this good professional relationship, but almost as an aside we had this struggle about our own faiths. And in talking about it we got to understanding each others’ faiths. We knew that on things like the Middle East debate we had different views, but it didn’t really matter because we liked each other and just wouldn’t really get into it.
It also prompted me to want to find out more because I didn’t want to upset or offend her. It made me want to talk about Judaism more as well. Because I’ve grown up with such a strong Jewish identity, I’m always quite keen to get it out there; I’m excited for other people to know about it and know what I’m about, so they don’t think Jews are odd or weird.
Of all the faiths I still probably know least about Islam. But it is complicated. Working in and around anti-Semitism, where Islamist extremism and Islamism are things we want to define and work against in some cases. I want to make sure I’m being open and understanding and my view doesn’t get tainted by a minority. So having Muslim friends and colleagues and understanding their faith, which they love and that helps them, is something I want to keep on with.