All Jews are Leonard Zelig at heart

Living in London has enabled me to embrace my Judaism. What happens in Mexico remains to be seen


By Venetia Thompson, October 26, 2010
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After eight eventful years, I have decided to take a break from London. Our relationship just isn't working as it once was.

There has been a recent burglary (they utilised my own Waitrose 'bag for life' to rob me); meltdowns at King's Cross and St Pancras stations (if you don't know which regional line your destination is on, you have no hope of finding your train - whose idea was this?); and finally, and this one is thanks to Boris, an ever-increasing amount of bicycles invading the city (I still can't ride one and, as if to remind me of my Achilles' heel, I keep getting run over by them).

So, as of Sunday, I now find myself living in a tiny village just outside Oxford, where I will be remaining with my boyfriend's Mexican family until we abscond to Mexico in November.

Just as I embraced my Jewish roots immediately upon arriving in London as a student, I'm now replacing my bagels with tacos, tortillas, burritos and fajitas (I haven't yet worked out the difference so I'm keeping all four in the mix), substituting gherkins for chipotle, switching my beloved gin martinis for margaritas, and trading my non-existent Hebrew for non-existent Spanish.

I’m going to be trading my non-existent Hebrew for non-existent Spanish

I've even apparently developed a comical Mexican accent when speaking English.

It's almost as if I went to bed as me, and woke up as Woody Allen's Leonard Zelig - a man who can't stop himself transforming to resemble the people around him, and a character who is often seen as Allen's allegory of his ongoing struggle with his Jewish identity. He adopts new accents and professions, and seamlessly alters his appearance.

Multiculturalism may well have failed in Germany (if Angela Merkel is to be believed), but if the sombrero I'm wearing whilst writing this in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside is anything to go by, in the UK it seems to be alive and well.

Of course, the by-product of strong multiculturalism is that preserving any firm identity, particularly in a city as diverse as London, is difficult.

And I should know - over the past eight years I've got tangled up in everything from Canary Wharf's culture of greed (when I suddenly woke up as a hungover pin-striped bond broker in 2006), Stockwell's Portuguese community (fish soup at 6am on the Wandsworth Road anyone?), to the uber Catholics of the Brompton Oratory (who mistook me for one of their own until I confused Lourdes with Lord's at a dinner party - apparently nobody should play cricket while on pilgrimage…).

You don't need to be in the midst of an identity crisis to be a bit Leonard Zelig.

Perhaps when the film was produced in 1983, Zelig would have been an oddity, but in 2010 we've all become human chameleons to some extent and this is now a celebrated character trait.

For Jews, this is, of course, nothing new. Adaptability and assimilation of the outward manifestations of host cultures whilst never losing sight of core identity has been a useful Jewish skill throughout history.

I may have left London to go loco down in Acapulco, but I know I'll be back.

In the meantime, I wonder how many margaritas it takes to lose sight of one's core identity?

As I am only Jewish on my mother's side of the family, I should probably be more careful…

    Last updated: 10:46am, October 26 2010