The Edot (Part I): The Pasty UK Years


By Melchett Mike
June 10, 2013
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If pushed to give my primary reason for, on a good day (i.e., when I haven’t been induced into spasm by some impudent native), preferring life in Israel to that in the UK, then pipping even the food, weather and women (in ascending order of hotness) would have to be the rich tapestry of Jewish life here. In spite of our many detractors (and, indeed, problems), the short history of Israel has been one of startling achievement in almost every field, not least of which has been the absorption of so many disparate edot (ethnic groups) – each with its own distinctive culture and traditions – into such a remarkably united (even if we wish it were more so) whole.

But whenever attempting to relate my experiences of, for instance, Moroccan or Yemenite Jews, and especially of their womenfolk, to an Anglo Jew, I am met with a blank expression (one that Part II will attempt to address). The vast majority of British Jews lack any frame of reference in this regard, hailing from or having their origins in Poland, Galicia (today straddling Poland and Ukraine), Russia, the Baltics, Germany, and, to a lesser extent, Hungary. And, growing up in North-West London, the very marginal differences between such Jews could only be discerned from their particular shuls or shtiebls (large and small synagogues) if they had them (most now don’t), from their Shabbos meals, though mainly from their own peculiar – in both senses – sense of identity.

So, in the Isaacson household, for example, my father, of Lithuanian extraction, always appeared to delight in highlighting (in good humour, mind) the intellectual and cultural inferiority of the Galicianer Reiss family into which he had married. The Litvak, he was certain, constituted the very “cream” of European Jewry. Indeed, my father’s claim has always seemed to me to be somewhat justified, the Litvak misnagdim appearing, on the one hand, more enlightened (almost by definition) than the hassidic Galicianers, whilst, on the other, somehow more human than the anally-challenged German Yekkes. (In contrast to most Jewish immigrants to the UK, who arrived immediately before and after the turn of the last century, the majority of Hungarian Jews did not escape the Holocaust and were perhaps, therefore, considered beyond, even light-hearted, stereotype.)

The sickening history of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, however, made the “Old Country” a delicate subject for all immigrants. Even though they escaped Lithuania and Galicia around two and three decades, respectively, before the rise of Hitler, my parents never heard their parents or grandparents talk about the pogroms and persecutions that they had suffered in their backward, Jew-hating hellholes. Anyway, there is far more that unites Ashkenazi (European) Jews than separates them. And the differences between them would be no more recognisable to the outsider – or even to most other Jews – than those between, for instance, British Muslims of Bangladeshi extraction and those from Pakistan.

A relatively small community of Sephardic Jews – of primarily Middle Eastern and North African descent – added some much-needed colour to the rather pallid complexion of Anglo-Jewish life. My exposure was to the, largely Indian, Sephardic community of Hendon, to the Adenites of Stamford Hill (many of whom attended Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys), and to a smattering of Moroccans, Egyptians, Iraqis and Persians (most of whom had escaped the 1979 Islamic Revolution, wisely with little more than their carpets).

And these Sephardim brought a lot to the table. Quite literally. Their mealtime plenty was quite an eye-opener for the Anglo Jew, in whose kitchen meticulous Shabbos potato allocation was carried out on a Thursday morning. Blessed with an Egyptian aunt, however, I was spared a childhood of exclusively (miserably bland) Ashkenazi fare (though even that was an improvement on traditional English grub). Wary not to injure his daughter’s (my mother’s) feelings, my grandfather would play months of ‘chess’ with the food she had deposited in his freezer, while my aunt’s wasn’t even given time to ice over.

The door policy, too, operated in Sephardic households was significantly more relaxed, with strays wandering in and out without any requirement for advance written invitation. This was a real culture shock for the Anglo Jew, who ‘greeted’ every unexpected knock at the door – which, even after positive identification, still wasn’t always opened – with a suspicious glance through translucent curtains or a built-in, magnifying peephole.

Perhaps in their attempt to blend in, however, the differences between these various Sephardic ethnicities and cultures were rarely visible to, or experienced by, their Ashkenazi ‘hosts’. And, beyond the puerile mimicking of the ‘funny’ accents of our new Persian classmates, I was never aware of any racism towards, or even light-hearted stereotyping of, our darker brothers. Indeed, many of them easily assimilated into Raleigh Close, Hendon’s very traditional United Synagogue. Moreover, the fact that the biggest “lout/wretch” (to quote our legendary former French master) in our school year was Morocco born and bred was neither here nor there.

In Israel, however, the richness of Jewish multi-ethnicity is celebrated, nurtured, and flourishes. And the deliciously incorrect sense of humour enjoyed here, thriving on ethnic excess and eccentricity, simply could not exist without the edot. Is there anything to the inevitable, resulting stereotypes? You betcha!! And don’t believe anyone who – serving his or, of course, her ‘god’ of political correctness – tells you otherwise.

[Next on melchett mike: The Edot (Part II): Ethnic Yentzing in Palestine. If you are offended by generalisations, and un-PC ones at that, then give it a miss. Anyway, you are probably on the wrong blog . . .]

http://melchettmike.wordpress.com/

COMMENTS

Harvey

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 13:19

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joemillis1959

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 13:57

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It's people like you, Garfield, who add fuel to the BDSers' campaign. And like you, they are a failure.

Were you so influenced by the neo-Nazis, that you cite Goebbels, yimach shemo? For shame. You are one sad, hate-filled, despicable and vile little man.

Closer to Israel? You and the far right have done more to make Jews question Israel and feel further away from it than 10 million PSC/BDS demos and meetings.


Harvey

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 14:02

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Joe have you taken the Tebbit test ?


Harvey

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 14:04

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Harvey

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 14:12

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Interestingly enough Millis , the Goebbels comment was not aimed at you but the BDS in general .
Strange you should respond as if it was directed at you . Why was that ?


joemillis1959

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 14:20

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Because, Garfield, your use of the Goebbels analogy shows just how much you were influenced by standing with the neo-nazis of the EDL/BNP. Even now you can't man up and admit your error, choosing instead to blame everyone else. It's cowardly to play the victim, and in that you and your myopic mates are no different from the jokers known as PSC/JFJFP.


Harvey

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 15:20

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The Goebbels comment was apt . The far left have used lying agit prop to best effect since its inception . There is nothing to separate Nazism and Communism .
Stalin had murdered tens of millions of his own people in what started out as purge of the intelligentsia and went from there . Same in China and Cambodia . Wherever there is Communism genocide is not far behind .
You as a dyed in the wool Communist , whether knowingly seized upon a malign far right intrusion of our counter demo . An intrusion which which was not welcomed and eventually persuaded to leave . For the past two years have twisted the circumstances including articles and constant reference to a lie created from your own febrile warped imagination . You provide succour to Israels enemies . You are the enemy within .


joemillis1959

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 15:50

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The Goebbels quote is apt for all extremists - left or like yourself far right. And like all extremists, left and right, it reflects cowardice and an inability to take responsibility for their words and deeds. It's always someone else's fault. Never your own. Pathetic response from pathetic vile, vicious and myopic people.

I repeat, you and those who stood with the neo-Nazis, and seized upon their support as a godsend, only asked for dissociation after, long after, it was pointed out to you that you were an embarrassment. That you were tarring the whole pro-Israel movement in this country. Yoy would have happily carried on with the EDL/BNP if the community leadership hadnt told you to stop. But then it was someone else's fault. Always someone else. Playing the victim card for all its worth - just like the PSC/JFJFP.

You and your mirror image on the other side are a liability for both the pro-Israel camp and the pro-Palestinian camp. A liability and a laughing stock. You do more to help the extremists' cause than they can dream of.

You and they have nothing to add to the debate except hatred and division, fear and despair. No one buys that crap anymore.

You accuse me of being a dyed in the wool Communist, yet it is you, your mates and your mirror images who adopt Stalinist tactics towards those with whom they disagree. So, as you say there's no difference between communism and nazism - a point with which I agree - what does that make you beyond being pathetic, vile and hate filled?


Harvey

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 15:57

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You are demented . Good luck with that


joemillis1959

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 17:22

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That is so typically pathetic and cowardly, Garfield. Take responsibility, man. What are you scared of? Derision? You are already derided.

If I'm demented for supporting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, what does that make you for standing, happily I might add, with racists and neo-Nazis? You say that Communism and Nazism are the same. For once you are correct. But as you deploy the Stalinist/fascist tactics of derision, hatred and division, fear and despair, what does that make you? A fascist bully and like all extremists, a coward.

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