What's with Friday nights?

By James Inverne, September 19, 2011

I'm annoyed with you, Jerry Seinfeld. The reason for my irritation, Jerry, would seem trivial to many, but to me, Jerry, it's a matter of principle - and it's something that has happened once too often. This was the straw that broke the camel's back, the touchpaper that lit the fuse, the…I'm aware, all too aware, that I'm coming across a bit like George Costanza. I don't care. I'm feeling a bit like him.

Because when you returned to the UK, Jerry, for your first stand-up gig in an age, I got excited. On my own behalf, sure, I like you well enough. But I was excited for my wife, Jerry, for her. She loves your work. Well, not Bee Movie obviously, almost nobody liked that. And so when I heard you were coming over, I rushed to find out more so that I could treat her.

But - do you know what I'm going to say? Does it occur to you? - we were effectively barred in advance. Because your show was scheduled for a Friday night.

I've had it Jerry, I've had it! Why do Jewish entertainers like you keep putting on your shows when many Jews cannot go?

Look, I'm not that religious. I'm traditional, in the middle. But there are certain basic things that I keep and Friday night is one.

There are countless examples of such stupid scheduling

It's not just you, and the reason that I'm venting about this now, months after your visit, is that it's happened again.

English National Opera are performing Weinberg's The Passenger from Monday, an important work about the Holocaust that is receiving only its second-ever staging. You couldn't find a show more of interest, in many ways vital interest, to Jewish audiences. I've got my tickets to the opening - no complaints there - and recommended to a Jewish friend that he might like to go. But he found that only the first and last nights were remotely possible and he couldn't make either. The others were all either on Shabbat or Yomtov.

When Daniel Barenboim brought his West–Eastern Divan Orchestra of Arabs and Israelis to the Proms two years ago, he programmed Beethoven's Fidelio with narration by Edward Said that apparently referred to the Middle East conflict. I say apparently because I didn't see it. They performed it on Friday night, guaranteeing that the bulk of at least one half of its target constituency couldn't be there.

There are countless other examples of Jewish-interest arts events being scheduled at a time when Jewish interest must perforce be elsewhere.

Like I said, I'm traditional. When I was growing up, that was the default position for most Jews in this country. We kept kosher (barring the odd gelatine-infused chocolate bar), we went to shul every other week, we attended cheder and we always, but always, kept Friday night. Things have changed since.

The community has polarised, with increasing numbers either more religious or not at all. And I wonder, Jerry, whether that's why you and, for that matter, Daniel Barenboim don't think about this as a problem. In your native America, or his native Israel, that process of polarisation seems to be further along, perhaps because both countries have so many Jews that you don't really need to cleave to religious rituals as a rare way of reminding yourself that you are Jewish.

Let me try and explain, as our rabbis and our stand-up comedians would, with a story. When I went to shul more frequently than I do now, I used to have a good-natured argument with my great-uncle. He has a rich high baritone and was a natural choice to join the newly created synagogue choir. I was against the choir for the same reason that I applauded the absence of musical instruments in Shabbat services - if you have either, people listen, they don't join in. The sounds that they cannot easily replicate rob them of confidence and distance them. They turn the participants into an audience.

No, I don't go often to shul on Saturday but Friday night I keep. Because that's not the time for my family and I to spectate. That's the time for us to find our own music, our own stories and even our own jokes. It's just that I'd like to have heard yours, too.

James Inverne is editor of Gramophone

Last updated: 1:28pm, September 19 2011