Bernard Benarroch, a Certified Scribe who in the picture above can be seen repairing a 300-year old scroll, ushered me into his workshop in Golders Green, north London, and insisted on making me coffee.
He is a Jew born in Glasgow, and at the age of three started learning his trade from his father: “I accidentally spilt the ink over a scroll.”
What does he make of the horrors in Israel? “Anglo-Jewry tends to be quite close to the Israeli setting,” he said, “given we’re only four and a half hours away: we’ve all got family and friends there.
“I’ve got a nephew who’s a reservist, on Saturday he went straight to Heathrow and waited for the next El Al flight with another 12 reservists. From there he got to his house in Israel, got his gear, and now he’s up north.
“There’s a sense of brotherhood. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in New Zealand or Australia or Timbuctoo.
“And it’s a very dangerous situation. At the moment Hezbollah is vastly stronger than Hamas. Iran will want to get involved. Nobody knows what’s round the corner.”
Does he think Sir Keir Starmer has restored the reputation of the Labour Party in the eyes of Jews?
“I didn’t hear the whole of his speech,” Benarroch said, “but I’m not worried about the anti-semitism in the Labour Party any more.
“Starmer has got a lot to offer, as has Rishi Sunak. I’m not too concerned which party gets in. I’m more concerned they can do the job.
“I still think of Margaret Thatcher. She was capable. I met her when I was a teenager. She was strong, determined, honest, you knew where you stood with her.
“She didn’t get the name Iron Lady for nothing. She had an agenda, make Britain great, and she did it.”
Thatcher served as MP for Finchley from 1959-1992. In 1997 her seat became, with a chunk of Hendon South, the new constituency of Finchley & Golders Green, in which over 20 per cent of the residents are Jewish, a higher proportion than in any other seat.
From 1997-2010 Finchley & Golders Green was held by Rudi Vis for Labour, but in 2005 his majority went down to 741, and in 2010 Mike Freer won the seat for the Conservatives with a majority of 5,809 (which sank to 1,657 in 2017, but rebounded to 6,562 in 2019, when Luciana Berger, for the Liberal Democrats, beat Labour into third place).
During these conversations, only one person criticised Starmer, the charge being that he had supported Jeremy Corbyn during the latter’s leadership. If Labour wins the next general election, Finchley & Golders Green, with its tendency to go with the winning party, seems likely to go Labour too.
“Boris Johnson has been in this shop,” Benarroch was saying. “And Theresa May.” Dean Cohen, Conservative councillor for Golders Green, who lives round the corner, had brought them there.
“It was actually very embarrassing,” Benarroch said of Johnson’s visit. “There were so many people around, he was laughing, I was laughing, and I had my feather pen and I’d written his name in Hebrew, and I started writing his name in English JON, but luckily I was able to change the N into an H.
“He went across the road to Grodzinski’s [the famous Jewish bakery, founded in the East End of London in 1888] and he was serving behind the counter there.”
A man waiting for a bus outside the King Solomon Hotel said: “We’re going to survive this. We’ve survived bigger things than this.
“My private opinion, I’m a religious Jew, one of our books says if God is not going to keep us nobody can.”
Another man in a skull cap said: “I’m too distressed to talk about it, to be honest.”
This was a frequent reaction, made also by a dignified 80-year-old man in a shop selling Jewish books and other religious items: “No words can describe it. Whatever you’re going to say is not sufficient. Whatever you’re going to say will be distorted.
“We’re stlll numbed by what happened. We haven’t seen the last of the reactions.”
He awoke in the middle of the night and asked himself: “Is it a bad dream?”
A second, younger man said: “For Black Lives Matter not to say a word about the 1,200 Jews murdered shows them to be very anti-semitic at the core.”
Has Sir Keir Starmer managed to deal with anti-semitism in the Labour Party? “There’s no anti-semitism within the [conference] building in Liverpool,” the younger man replied. “At the conference a lot of the far-left people dropped items from the agenda.”
A man from Hendon who works in Golders Green wondered: “What can we say? I think they had it coming to them. I sort of believe it could have been avoided if they’d done something earlier.
“A one-day Holocaust happened this week. But I think Israel has no other choice but to eliminate them. I think eventually Egypt will have to take them.
“We always say we can’t allow history to repeat itself, but then it repeats itself.
“I think there’s more to come, and in the next few days we’re going to see more pictures on TV of God knows what.
“And I think the next war’s going to be with Iran. Who’s going to do it, Israel or America?”
On the railway bridges which carry the Northern Line on from Golders Green towards Edgware, the words “Free Palestine”, daubed there on Sunday night, have been neatly blotted out with oblongs of black paint.
Police officers strolled up and down Golders Green Road. I spotted three different pairs of them, and derived some comfort from their presence, though how one wishes they were still instructed to wear their traditional helmet, which would make them more imposing.
A considerable number of private security guards could also be seen, guarding various Jewish institutions, but how peaceful the road was yesterday.
A financial adviser, who still has shrapnel in his body from a hand grenade thrown in another European country at some Jews when he was nine years old, said the attacks by Hamas were so “barbaric” that anything “anything other than condemnation” by British politicians “would be an epic failure”.
He was not optimistic: “There will always be anti-semitism. I don’t think it’s a curable disease.
“Anti-semitism is just unfettered hatred of Jews. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but anti-semitism is something else.”
How sombre the mood is in Golders Green, yet great civility was shown to a stranger who had come to ask, too soon for most people, what they make of the horrific events in Israel.