Tuesday, October 19

British Jews have always been modest, but we are beginning to show our gall | Life and Style

METERChildren are still too young for teenage rebellions, but seeing the growing vocal irritation among British Jews, generally a rather placid group, has given me a sense of something akin to motherly pride. Look at you, I thought, as they complained in a bad mood Angela Rayner’s tweet last month, in which you described Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar as the ‘first ethnic minority leader of a political party anywhere in the UK’, oh Ed Miliband (not to mention Michael Howard and possibly Benjamin Disraeli ) are forgotten. Now you are having a good time.

Growing up in New York, I took two things for granted: Being Jewish was great, and I should bring it up as often as possible. This is what happens when your cultural diet is Woody Allen and Mel Brooks movies, and your apartment is across from a bagel shop. My favorite movie quote was “May the Schwartz be with you”(Spaceballs – still a classic). My friends considered my Hebrew lessons on Wednesday afternoons to be no stranger than tennis class on Saturday morning.

Then we moved to Great Britain. Being Jewish in the UK felt very different than in the United States. Most obviously, there were no other Jews in my class at school. This wasn’t really a problem, until I sent them all the invitations to my batmitzvah, and then I had to explain what that was. I knew there were Jews in London, but they seemed to live in certain pockets; in New York they spread around town like a cream cheese sauce.

Then there were the British Jews themselves, who were much quieter and more modest than the New Yorkers I knew. Among the children, there were no shared cultural references: There were no great British Jewish films, and although there were British Jewish comedians (Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle, Stephen Fry), they didn’t really lead with their Judaism. The few prominent British Jews, Alan Sugar, Philip Green, weren’t exactly aspirational role models in the mold of Philip Roth and Nora Ephron. There were jokes about British Jews, but we told them among ourselves, not in the mainstream. New York may not reflect America, but even the most mainstream American television show, Friends, featured Ross and Monica Geller, and the Hanukkah armadillo.

Jewish guilt, I knew: that clichéd (and true) Jewish characteristic of feeling guilty about everything from masturbation to not calling your mother. But it wasn’t until I moved to Britain that I encountered Jewish shame, people who were actually ashamed of being Jewish. One possible reason for this came up when I recently interviewed one of my favorite English authors, Edward St Aubyn, and asked him why he made the character of Saul Jewish in his new novel. Was it, I asked, to emphasize his outsider status? “I was operating by intuition, it was not so sketchy,” he said. “I just thought that Saúl and [the very glamorous character] Hunter wouldn’t have been Princeton’s best friend, so that may be part of him becoming an outsider. “

The intuition that thinks of Jews as outsiders is a reflection of St Aubyn’s (upper) class, but also a reflection of Britain in general. Last week, the host of The BBC politics live show suggested that “many Jews have managed to reach high political positions [so perhaps they] Doesn’t it need to be seen as a group that needs recognition in the same way as everyone else? “Given that this question was asked during a segment in which four non-Jews debated whether Judaism counts as an ethnicity, it is quite clear that at least i need recognition of the lazy television commissioners.

Me too recently interviewed David Baddiel – possibly the most famous Jewish person in this country – for Jewish Book Week, in which he was promoting his new book, Jews don’t count, which argues that anti-Semitism is not taken seriously as a kind of racism. He talked about how Judaism in America has an aura of genius, while in the UK it “smells like the suburbs” – Brooklyn versus Stanmore, in other words. This shame, coupled with that very British (and very un-American) fear of making a fuss, has led to British Jewish reluctance and consequently a lack of cultural identity.

But that is changing. British writers and performers who have highlighted their Judaism (Baddiel, but also Howard Jacobson, Simon Amstell, Rachel Riley, and Tracy-Ann Oberman) have played a role here. In the ’80s and’ 90s, when Maureen Lipman played the “you have an ology!” Grandma in the BT commercials, I felt that most Brits were unaware of their Judaism; 20 years later, that wasn’t a problem with Robert Popper’s delightful C4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner, which had an identity that felt equally British and Jewish.

Jeremy Corbyn deserves credit here too. When 85% of British Jews said that thought he was anti-semitic In a poll for the Jewish Chronicle, it was clear that there was a cause here that had united demographics like no other. The Corbyn era, coupled with the rise of identity politics, has encouraged British Jews to speak out in a new way, talking about all fakakta and showing our cheek, not just to each other, but in public, on social media. , for all. Oy vey, Britain, get ready. The party starts now.


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