“I am not religious. But I am Jewish. My relationship with my Jewishness is complex. But whose isn’t?” writes the leader of the Labour Party and of the opposition in parliament, Ed Miliband, in the New Statesman.
Miliband is painfully aware of his heritage: “As children we were only dimly aware of it but we caught glimpses. When I was seven, my family went to visit my grandmother in Tel Aviv. Pointing at a black-and-white photograph, I demanded to know who was ‘that man in the picture.’ I remember being taken swiftly out of the room and then being told quietly that he was my grandfather David, who had died in Poland long before I was born. It was only some years later that I realized my mum’s father had died in a concentration camp, murdered by the Nazis for being Jewish.”
Edward Samuel Miliband graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and the London School of Economics. He started out as a television journalist and then as researcher for the Labour Party. He became a confidant of Chancellor Gordon Brown and was appointed Chairman of the Treasury’s Council of Economic Advisers.
When Gordon Brown became prime minister, he made Miliband his Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, followed by an appointment to Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. In 2010, Miliband was elected Leader of the Labour Party.
“For me, my Jewishness and my Britishness are intertwined,” the man who may be Britain’s future prime minister writes. “My parents defined themselves not by their Jewishness but by their politics. They assimilated into British life outside the Jewish community. There was no bar mitzvah, no Jewish youth group; sometimes I feel I missed out.”
Still, although he married a non-Jew, Miliband has no doubts about his Jewish roots. “My mum got me into Woody Allen,” he recalls, “my dad taught me Yiddish phrases (there is no better language for idiomatic expressions, some of them unrepeatable). And my grandmother cooked me chicken soup and matzo balls.”
As to the influence his home had on his political thinking, Miliband writes: “I was not indoctrinated with Marxism. Nor was I brought up with religion. But I was given a sense that the world could be a better, fairer and different place. And we all have a duty in our own way and our own time to seek to make it so.”
Conservative Benjamin Disraeli (elected 1837) was the first Jewish leader of a political party, and first Jewish prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Sir Julius Vogel was the eighth premier of New Zealand from 1873 to 1875 and again in 1876. Current prime minister of New Zealand John Key and former prime minister Francis Bell are of Jewish extraction, both from the mothers’ side.