Relax those shoulders, release that inner pride

Can we be comfortable with our Jewishness if we don’t show it?


By Venetia Thompson, April 29, 2010
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Well, you've got to be Jewish - only a Jew would wake up drunk with a half-eaten matzah balanced on top of her right breast.

"So you're loud and proud eh?" - I hadn't realised that, in writing my first book, I was simultaneously "outing" myself as Jewish on the back cover until a Jewish friend of mine rang me last week and read out the blurb, laughing.

I wasn't brought up Jewish - we lived in deepest, darkest Devon, and my mother had lost contact with all her Jewish family in north London before I was born.

Inexplicably, my parents then packed me off to a Catholic boarding school - I was a thoroughly confused Jew-ish 11-year-old surrounded by very mean Catholic girls with nothing but a giant jar of gherkins to fend off the nuns. My parents thankfully soon removed me, and I avoided any further encounters with religion until I moved to London for university, tracked down my Jewish family, and even staggered into Hillel House a few times during my first year.

Perhaps it’s not time for flag-waving but why not whip out the JC on the tube?

Ever since my mother warned me as a teenager to be careful whom I told about my Jewish roots ("I don't care what anyone says, antisemitism is rife! You'd be dead if there was another Holocaust"), exploring my Jewish identity has felt a little dangerous - like an extreme sport that could go very wrong at any moment.

I am not alone in feeling this fear. My Jewish friends are happily loud and proud when they are in Jewish areas, surrounded by other Jews, but much less so elsewhere. I have even noticed one friend walking differently. In Hendon, he happily struts around in his kippah, but walking along the Edgware Road the other night he seemed to be permanently in the brace position, shoulders slightly raised - as if he was half expecting to get smacked over the head at any moment. Eventually, he removed the kippah altogether.

With antisemitic incidents last year reaching the highest levels in decades, it is perhaps understandable that many Jews in London are no longer comfortable being loud and proud (if indeed they've ever been), and I wonder how many people are happy reading their JC on the tube, or whether they read it only behind closed doors. Being comfortable with one's Jewish identity (whatever that may be) in the UK is becoming increasingly difficult. London is sadly a long way away from having the relaxed shoulders and confident Jewish cultural identity of Los Angeles or New York.

It's perhaps not a time for flag-waving, but whipping out the JC on the tube or bus is a good place to start. Brandishing my last copy resulted in one antisemitic joke from the back of a bus in central London, one offer of a date, an oddly relaxed conversation about Israel with a Muslim, and someone even drunkenly high-fiving me. Three positives out of four isn't bad… maybe it is time to be a little louder and a little prouder, after all.

Gross Misconduct by Venetia Thompson is published by Simon & Schuster at £7.99

    Last updated: 10:49am, July 9 2010

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