Gazette letters: Pigeons, burial row and Holocaust

Pigeons in town.

Pigeons in town. - Credit: Getty Images

If asked to choose a colour to represent the month of January, I would opt for a pale grey-blue, writes Will McCallum, Newington Green.

Each morning walking down the Essex Road to work it is this dawn lighting enveloping me, tiny droplets suspended in mid-air reflecting the sun’s first efforts of the day.

I arrive at each destination mildly damp – this colour is the kind that manages to imbue your clothes with moisture.

But some things are more attractive in this light. The Tibetan cherry trees are impressive – thick trunked, glistening purple bark, horned branches reaching across the pavement above our heads. Pigeons, too, the morning sky picking out the many shades of blue, grey and white in their plumage. A pigeon diving, wings at 90 degrees to its body as it plunges beak-first towards its perched comrades, is a very London silhouette.

I stopped to watch the pigeons in Clapton Square as I ran through yesterday. Strange beasts: evolved alongside humans they are as much a part of the cityscape as we are. Each bird carries its own unique defects – a missing toe (likely wrapped in some kind of wire or hair until it dropped off); ruffled feathers; there is usually at least one so morbidly obese it seems a miracle to see it lift off the ground.

Of the many creatures to call London home, it is possible that we and the pigeons are the oldest inhabitants. The first city dwellers, eyeing one another with faint distrust as we go about our daily business.

Asher Gratt, Adath Yisroel Burial Society, Stoke Newington, writes in response to the Editor’s comment (“I can’t see legal threat calming coroner’s row”, Gazette) and the story “Row over priority burials for Jewish and Muslim people could land coroner in court” (Gazette).

These problems and delays were never experienced before this particular coroner arrived.

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Unfortunately the goodwill, understanding and flexibility available elsewhere is somewhat lacking here and it is not simply down to short-staffing (if at all). On her arrival here, I heard that she immediately introduced strict office hours, excessive bureaucracy and centralised decision-making under her personal authority – making delays inevitable.

Besides these delays, by withdrawing the 2015 agreement, she is in effect additionally forbidding relatives from observing age-old customs and beliefs in “guarding bodies until burial”; this has nothing to do with staffing levels and to grieving relatives might almost seem like pure malice, which is no way to obtain their support or backing.

The Adath Yisroel Burial Society has been cooperating here in north London with relatives and coroners since the early 1900s! It is staffed by volunteers selflessly available at all hours, as have Jewish communities across Europe for centuries, to ensure their dead are buried according to religious custom and tradition as soon as possible. This is stipulated in the Bible (Deuteronomy 21:23 and Joshua 10:27) and recorded in the Codes of Jewish law so for thousands of years it has been an imperative for Jews and later Muslims to bury quickly, often without waiting for all relatives.

However, other religions and customs routinely postpone burials to allow adequate arrangements and notify all relatives, so these delays are less of a trauma. Of course, anyone of any or no religion who also wants to speed up their process for whatever reason should equally have their preferences respected. Would the Editor consider everyone late for their plane trying to skip an airport queue as “disregarding” passengers queuing for later flights?

The coroner’s row was not of our making when we obviously prefer to sort these challenges amicably rather than resort to the law. Unfortunately, council taxpayers will end up paying this coroner’s legal bills since coroners are funded by councils – though they have no say whether she elects to fight her corner in court rather than compromise. Perhaps it is these extra costs which have led councils to underfund or understaff this Coroners’ Office?

Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us where the failure to confront and defeat racism takes us: to the unspeakable horror of genocide, writes Hackney Stand Up to Racism (HSUTR).

Yet anti-Semitism is on the rise. An old racism, which most of us thought could never revive, grows alongside the new racism of Islamophobia.

We are writing to invite you to attend the next public meeting that Hackney Stand Up to Racism is organising: “Lessons of the Holocaust Today” at 7.30pm on January 23 at Halkevi Community Centre, 31-33 Dalston Lane, E8 2PE.

The speakers will be David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group, who has led educational tours of Auschwitz; Isobel Kingscote, head of policy and research MEND, a leading campaigner against Islamophobia; Jane Loftus, president of the Communication Workers Union; and Nahelle Ashraf, an national officer of Stand Up to Racism.

Local activist Mike Simons, whose father came to this country on one of the last Kindertransports to leave Nazi Germany, explains why he will be attending: “My family lost many members in the Holocaust and I can hear the echoes of the 1930s today.”

Also, US President Donald Trump is visiting Britain on February 26-27. Hackney Stand Up to Racism is calling an organising meeting to discuss what we should be doing to say no to Trump’s racism, misogyny, homophobia and war-mongering. It is open to all individuals and campaigning bodies. It will take place at 7pm on February 5 at Dammer Centre, 16 Howard Road, N16 8PU.