AJEX Ceremony of Remembrance 171119 CREDIT BFBS
Remembrance

Why Does The Jewish Community Have Its Own Remembrance?

This year's Jewish Remembrance ceremony takes place at The Cenotaph on Sunday.

AJEX Ceremony of Remembrance 171119 CREDIT BFBS

Hundreds of Jewish ex-servicemen and women and their supporters join together each year to hold their own Remembrance parade.

Traditionally, the event takes place the weekend after Remembrance Sunday and includes a service, which is held annually at the Cenotaph in central London, to honour the contributions of Jewish servicemen and women.

The parade is organised by the Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen and Women (AJEX) and this year’s event will culminate in a service at The Cenotaph at 2pm, on Sunday, 21 November.

The deadline to apply for tickets to take part in the parade has now passed but AJEX says it welcomes spectators to support the marchers, from 2pm outside the secure barrier near the Scotland Office near the Cenotaph.

All spectators, however, are reminded to be aware of the Government’s current COVID guidelines and to be mindful of staying safe during the pandemic.

AJEX ceremony around the Cenotaph 171119 CREDIT BFBS

Why do Jewish veterans have their own Remembrance?

The annual Remembrance Parade and Ceremony was started in the 1930s, following the formation of the Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen and Women (AJEX) in 1921 when a group of Jewish veterans laid their first wreath at the Cenotaph.

Anti-Semitism had been on the rise during that era, with some sections of society accusing Jewish people of not serving during the First World War.

The AJEX group formed in part to counter those anti-Semitic views and to highlight the contribution of Jewish members of the military, thousands of whom gave their lives serving in the British Armed Forces.

More than 50,000 Jewish members of the Armed Forces fought in World War One, while 10,000 Jewish personnel lost their lives.

The association was granted permission to hold an additional Remembrance Parade, following the national service, by King George V, supported by his wife Queen Mary, to recognise the contribution of Jewish Armed Forces to the defence of Britain, and to highlight the fact that Jewish ex-servicemen and women had done their duty to the wider public.

Historian Martin Sugarman, an archivist at AJEX and a prolific author and researcher on the subject of the Jewish contribution to military service, said:

“During the First World War, when they were setting up the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, then known as the Imperial War Graves Commission, the King and Queen had a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other religious leaders including the Chief Rabbi at Buckingham Palace, and they were discussing if the Jewish casualties would have a Jewish emblem on their graves.

“It was agreed they would have the Star of David which is why you see Commonwealth War Graves with the Star of David, hundreds and hundreds of them, but apparently the Queen, Queen Mary, took the Chief Rabbi aside and said, ‘You know, there’s a lot of nonsense spoken about the fact that the Jews didn’t fight, you should have your own Remembrance Parade after the national day’.

“They were discussing Remembrance Day on November the 11th, and that’s why the Jewish veterans go both to the national parade on November the 11th or the closest Sunday, but then we’ve also had since the early 1920s, the AJEX parade, Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen and women, on the following Sunday, just for the Jewish community.”

Mr Sugarman added that while those attending the service were mostly Jewish veterans, he said anyone is traditionally welcome to support and attend the event.

He said there would have been as many as 10,000 veterans attending the event in years gone by when he was a boy for instance, but there are fewer today as many of those older veterans have passed away.

Today, the service also recognises the many Jewish members of the Armed Forces who serve in today’s Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force.

There were similar attitudes towards the Jewish community during the Second World War and the notion that Jews ‘did not fight’ still permeates in some quarters of society even today, which is why members of AJEX feel the annual parade is as important as ever.

In Britain, more than 60,000 Jewish people, from a population of around 350,000 Jewish people, served in the British Armed Forces - a large proportion of the Jewish community – and the annual parade is held to recognise such as significant contribution to Britain’s military effort.

Willesden Jewish war memorial

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission war memorial at Willesden Jewish Cemetery in North West London. Picture: BFBS.

Jewish War Memorial

A war memorial commemorating fallen Jewish members of the Armed Forces of both world wars was erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1961 at Willesden Jewish Cemetery in North West London and this now also forms the focus of AJEX ceremonies.

Mr Sugarman said the war memorial “looks like a mini-Cenotaph”, and honours “the Jewish men and women who served who have no known graves.”

He added that there are hundreds and hundreds of graves of fallen Jewish Armed Forces in Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries all over the world, including some in church cemeteries, which are marked by the Star of David.