23 October 2020

‘I’m a very lucky refugee. And we
need to do this for other people’

Patrick Comerford

I have been writing over the last few days about three Holocaust survivors who were born in Vienna and eventually settled in Northern Ireland – Inge Radford and Edith (Medel) Sekules and her husband Kurt Sekules – and about the Czech-born dance teacher and choreographer, Helen Lewis, a Holocaust survivor who moved from Prague to Belfast.

In my Friday evening reflections this evening, I have been moved by an interview Inge Radford’s daughter, Dr Katy Radford, gave to the Belfast Telegraph two years ago [19 November 2018].

Dr Radford has spent a lifetime working to build relationships across the divide and to champion the marginalised. She is project manager at the Institute for Conflict Research and has worked with many organisations, including the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Commission for Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition.

In her interview, Katy Radford recalled a ‘privileged middle-class upbringing’ in south Belfast, even though her mother had fled the Nazis as a child and had lost half of her family in the Holocaust.

Katy talked about her pride in her Jewish heritage and in her Northern Ireland identity. She grew up in a Reform community, and the first rabbi she had was a woman.

Although she did attend a synagogue regularly as a child, she grew up with a pronounced sense of Jewish identity but not of religious observance. ‘We were always aware of heritage. We were always aware of the family narrative,’ she said.

Her mother had always encouraged me to connect to her Jewish culture and she got a sense of her Jewish identity from travelling. From the age of 15, she started visiting her family in Israel regularly and learnt about religion and ritual in what she describes as ‘a much more liberal way.’

She returned to Belfast in her 30s with a very different understanding of what a Jewish community was about.

She told the Belfast Telegraph that one of the things she is most proud of about her mother was an incident when Syrian refugees started to arrive in Northern Ireland.

Amnesty International had organised an event in Belfast, and Inge Radford made a determined effort to take part in it. It was raining heavily that day, but she made her way from Millisle to Belfast in a Zimmer frame walker on the bus.

She was saying: ‘I’m a very lucky refugee. And we need to do this for other people.’

For Katy Radford, this typifies the childhood and the values that her mother gave her.

She recalls an expression in Judaism – a mitzvah (מִצְוָה‎). It is an expression that includes a sense of heartfelt sentiment beyond mere legal duty, as ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19: 18).

Katy Radford explained: ‘A mitzvah is a duty, an obligation. But it’s also a privilege. A mitzvah is something you have to do but it’s your privilege to do it. If, say, I visit someone who is unwell, it’s not that I have to do it, it’s a benefit to me that I do that thing.’

‘No reward can match the reward of having done good,’ the Baal Shem Tov said. ‘Does G-d need your mitzvahs? No. G-d desires your mitzvahs. A mitzvah is a jewel of immeasurable value, the embodiment of divine desire. And so the sages taught, ‘The greatest reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself’.’

Shabbat Shalom.

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