Copywriter Hywel Roberts learns more than he bargained for on joining Norwood

11 May 2018

Hywel Roberts has come a long way since his interview at Norwood 18 months ago. From knowing very little about the Jewish community, he has now become something of an expert on Jewish festivals and culture. Here he explains the benefits of this new-found knowledge.

At the interview for my current role at Norwood, I was asked a question that took me aback. It was a simple question really: “What do you know about the Jewish community in London?”

The reason I struggled was because, frankly, all I could think was “almost nothing”. Prior to the interview I’d done all the usual things to prepare. I’d Googled Norwood and memorised some facts and figures about the charity, I’d prepared answers to showcase my appropriate skills and, knowing it was a Jewish organisation, even topped up the (very limited) knowledge on Judaism that an A-Level in Religious Studies gave me more than a decade ago.

But in terms of the local community? Well to be honest, to read up on this never crossed my mind, and I look back now and feel a little guilt. Thankfully, almost 18 months later, I am still with Norwood and have the good fortune to work and socialise with many members of the Jewish community every day.

I confess I was slightly nervous about coming into a Jewish charity. I didn’t want to do anything culturally insensitive that would embarrass either myself or the charity, and I wasn’t sure how people in the community would react to having a non-Jewish person working for such a well-known Jewish institution.

Thankfully, my fears were completely baseless. I could not have had a warmer welcome and I have learnt so much in such a short space of time. Working for Norwood, the first thing that struck me was the dedication to charitable acts that exists; both in Judaism and people who see themselves as more culturally than religiously Jewish.

Our campaigns align to two significant points in the Jewish calendar (Rosh Hashanah and Pesach) and the generosity shown by people every year demonstrates that this commitment to charitable giving is very real. It’s fantastic to see that the spirit of giving is alive and well, both among the Jewish and Muslim communities, with whom I’ve witnessed some wonderful interfaith work under the banner of Mitzvah Day and Sadaqa Day.

Sadly we are at a time when the Jewish community is increasingly getting into the news for facing increasing antisemitism, which is heartbreaking to see. There are also racial and religious tensions increasing in other parts of our society which is equally worrying. While there are no quick solutions, what I would say is that greater understanding of any group is essential to building cohesion.
Whether it’s in a professional capacity, as in my case, or in a volunteering or personal context, I would encourage everyone to get involved with groups you know little or nothing about. It’s something that will enrich your life. I am delighted now that I know so much more about Jewish festivals, with Purim being a personal favourite, Judaism’s fascinating rich cultural history and the customs that still play an important role in the Jewish way of life today.

All communities have fascinating histories, cultures and secrets that are ready to be explored by the curious of mind. My main wish is that more people take the time to explore a new culture and reap the many benefits that brings.