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Friends and Strategic Partners: An interview with Matthew Gould, British Ambassador to Israel

Binyamin Rose

Matthew Gould is the first Jew to serve as Britain’s ambassador to Israel, but he is not the first ambassador to invest time and effort to understand the interests and viewpoints of Israel’s growing chareidi community. In fact, he considers it an essential ingredient of how successful he will be in his job.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Matthew Gould’s grandfather was one of ten children of an Orthodox Polish Jew who made his living selling fruit juice from his horse and wagon in Warsaw. One day, his grandfather was walking home from yeshivah, along a path near his home, when he spotted what looked to be two Polish policemen beating up an elderly Jewish man.

As he drew closer, he discovered, to his horror, that the man under attack was his own father. Summoning up all of the strength of youth, he beat up his father’s attackers, but as a result, had to flee Poland to avoid prosecution, or worse.

He spent the next few years in various European and South American countries, plying his trade as an industrial knitting machine repairman, before eventually settling in Birmingham, England. The family history becomes a bit fuzzy here. Perhaps two or three of his nine other brothers and sisters eventually fled Warsaw before the Nazi occupation of World War II, but the others were never heard from again. 

Ambassador Gould related this aspect of his family history at a reception for select chareidi rabbanim, politicians, and media members, held at the Tel Aviv home of Reb Itche Schapira, son of former Knesset member Rabbi Avraham Yosef Schapira, z”l

At a follow-up interview a few weeks later at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, I asked Ambassador Gould what kind of impression his family history has made on him.

“One is that there’s a moral in this story about standing up for yourself, your family, and your people and that gives me a great deal of pride,” he said. “At a number of points in my family’s history, my ancestors have fought for their rights and the rights of the Jewish People. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was in the battle of Cable Street in London, where the Jews and the communists together fought a pitched battle with Oswald Mosely’s Blackshirts. I take some pride as well in the fact that we were part of that.

“My family has, particularly since the Holocaust, taken a different route religiously. We’re still very proud to be Jewish but we’re not part of the chareidi community. But I do look at the picture of my great-grandfather which I keep up on my wall and I do think he would have been surprised and rather proud to see me sitting down with sixteen leading rabbis from Israel’s chareidi community.”

 

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