The aim of this activity is to challenge the idea of Jewish responsibility and to examine the tensions inherent in the attempt to apply the ideal in real situations.
• Remind the students of the concept of - all Jews are responsible for each other. Define this, and make a list of suggested situations in which this value may be relevant. Ask them whether they consider it a positive value. Do they like it? Why?
• Now ask them whether they think that this is always carried out. Can they think of examples where they have behaved in a way that accords with the value? Can they think of examples where they have failed to live up to the value?
• Raise the issue of Jewish refugees. Offer the first of the two texts from The King’s Persons. Discuss the two positions put forward at the end by Baruch (the wealthiest Jew in the community and one of the most influential community leaders) and by the community Rabbi, Rabbi Elias [Eliahu]. (Incidentally, both represent real historical figures). On what are the differences between the two figures based? How does the group understand Baruch’s fears? Is this mere personal selfishness or is he weighing other considerations?
• Explain the background of deterioration of the Jews’ situation in England, and the reason for the new stream of refugees. Offer the second excerpt from the novel. After they have read it, divide the class into pairs or small groups. The students should then make a diagram with arrows and a circle, showing the reasons for having the refugees stay in York or leave as all the various characters that appear in the piece believe. Factors that lead towards the Jews’ staying should be marked with arrows pointing inwards towards the circle at the center of which should be written the words “to keep the Jewish refugees.” Factors that lead towards the newcomers’ being made to leave and wander on should point outwards, away from the circle.
• Bring the groups back together to explain the diagrams. List the various factors cited on both sides.
• After this, each person should prepare a short speech outlining what they think that they would have said had they been present in a community meeting to decide the fate of the refugees.
• Conduct that meeting, asking people to state their positions. Finally, ask one of the more eloquent members of the group, whom you have already notified, to take the position of a refugee and to respond to the group’s position, whatever it may be.