Observing in our own ways

Each Jew can recognise Yom Kippur in a way that has meaning to them

By Stephen Pollard, September 16, 2010

Can I be honest? It might come as a surprise to some of you, but I am not the Chief Rabbi.

There. I've said it. There are, one might have thought, few reasons to think I am in fact, the Chief Rabbi - I don't have a beard, for starters - but, believe me, there are people out there who think otherwise.

It didn't take me long to realise that the post of editor of the JC comes with what one might call extra-curricular duties.

One of the many pleasures of the job is the chance to see Anglo-Jewry in all its many manifestations, to visit all varieties of communities, and to speak up and down the country at shuls, WIZOs, groups and homes.

But not, I have to tell one of you, to officiate at weddings.

Tomorrow is also important to those who struggle with the religious aspects of Judaism

I'd barely been in post when I received a phone call from a young woman who had just got engaged.

I was slightly awed at her idea of calling the editor of the Jewish Chronicle directly to pass on her news; I guessed that she thought it would make it easier to ensure her distant relatives and friends heard about it
if it was on the front page of that week's paper.

I was about to tell her that if she wanted to make sure the news was everywhere, she should take an ad in the Hatches, Matches and Despatches section, when it emerged why she was calling me. Not to let me know about her forthcoming nuptials, but to ask me to officiate at them.

I was sorely tempted to accept her invitation, on the basis that you should always accept one-of-a-kind invitations - and this was certainly that.

Yes, her entire future life would have been built on a sham marriage, but I'd have had a good story to tell.

My innate decency got the better of me, however, and I broke the news to her that being editor of the JC was not dependant on rabbinical qualification.

She didn't quite believe me - she seemed to think I'd come up with a flimsy excuse for simply not wanting to do it - but I'm sure that she eventually found someone else and is now living in marital bliss.

As far as I know, that's the only time I've been confused with a rabbi - although I can't say that about Daniel Finkelstein or Simon Heffer, with both of whom I am regularly confused - but it gave me a warm feeling. Someone, somewhere, harboured the illusion that I was in some way holy.

Because I have to confess that another basic rabbinical trait falls at the first hurdle: how I tend to spend my Saturdays.

You are far more likely to see me screaming from my seat in the East Stand Upper at White Hart Lane on a given Saturday than you are to see me in shul.

Except, of course, this week.

Tomorrow the mighty Spurs will be playing Wolves at home, but without my support.

Is there any Jew with any sense of belonging to the community who doesn't observe Yom Kippur in some way? They might not even spend any time in shul; just some sort of fast, thinking about the past year, and his or her place in the world.

I'll spend time in shul, and I'll fast. So, of course, will most readers of the JC. And we'll each have our own reasons: some religious, some cultural, some traditional.

For me it's mainly the tradition of it. Our ancestors did it, and I want my daughter to be brought up to respect her family's and religion's traditions and to inherit that heritage.

Sophie might only be a year old, but there's an unbroken line back to her people's history, and I want her to feel that history and tradition is part of who she is.

You might dismiss that as superficial. But to me, that's precisely why Yom Kippur matters. Because it is important not only to observant Jews but also to those of us who struggle with the religious aspects of Judaism. And if that's superficial, so be it.

Last updated: 11:22am, September 16 2010