The IoS Interview: Rabbi Mark Winer of West London Synagogue - `Yes, We Jews Are Paranoid, but There Are People out to Get Us, to Get Everybody, in Fact'

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Biography

1942: Born in Logan, Utah, before moving to Texas at the age of 10.

1964: Graduated from Harvard with a first in sociology, psychology and anthropology.

1970: Ordained as a rabbi.

1977: Completed a doctorate in sociology of religion, contemporary Jewry, race and ethnic relations at Yale.

1977: Rabbi at Commack, New York.

1987: Rabbi at White Plains, New York.

1993: He is one of three world Jewish leaders at the signing of the historic treaty between Israel and the Vatican.

1995: President of the National Council of Synagogues.

1998: Appointed senior rabbi at West London Synagogue, taking over from Rabbi Hugo Gryn.

"Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean people aren't out to get you," booms Rabbi Mark Winer, his loud American accent drifting over Upper Berkeley Street, in London. "Yes, we Jews are paranoid. But we have good reason to be paranoid historically. We have paranoia in our veins, but there are people out to get us. The point is they are out to get everybody."

These are troubled times for Britain's 300,000 Jewish community. Fascism is on the march again across not only mainland Europe, but across Britain too, with the desecration of a synagogue in Finsbury Park last week the most serious in a growing number of anti-Semitic attacks. With Israel branded a pariah state and anti-Semitism seemingly fashionable among the English chattering classes, who would blame Rabbi Winer for bolting back to the haven that is his native America?

Jews in this country may be getting twitchy, but Rabbi Winer, a 6ft 5in, 300lb bruiser with thick grey, curly hair and a resemblance to Bill Clinton, is undeterred and staying put. For heaven's sake, he pleads, don't single out Jews as victims. "The truth of the matter is all of Western culture is profoundly racist," he says. "We are all of us bundles of prejudice, as surely as we are bundles of neuroses. There are people so racist that they are prejudiced against groups that don't even exist. If you asked these people about the Lilliputians, they will despise them.

"Every group has bigotry. That is a part of the human condition ... but I think the prejudice against Arabs and Muslims is much worse in Britain than the prejudice against Jews."

Rabbi Winer, a larger-than-life character who could talk both the hind and fore legs off a donkey, is the head rabbi at the West London Synagogue, the flagship "shul" in the Jewish reform movement. Reform Judaism, unlike the Orthodox branch, allows women rabbis, permits men and women to sit together in synagogue and holds services in English as well as Hebrew. …