Chasidim, comedy and a chat

By David Robson, March 5, 2012
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For someone like me, who never gets invited to simchas and doesn't always see enough of my fellow semites, this has been a month of plenty - plenty of Jews. In places unlikely and likely. One afternoon in London's Kensington High Street (not normally to be mistaken for a shtetl) there are maybe a hundred Chasidim protesting about the suppression of "religious freedom" in Israel. They are as close to the Israeli embassy as the police will allow them, which is not very close. They are a fantastic sight though, since the Almighty hasn't been very helpful weather-wise, many of them have had to cover their shtreimels and big black hats in kosher polythene to shield them from the torrential rain.

On the BBC Radio 4 jazz series there was a lovely documentary about Ronnie Scott's jazz club. The great Mel Brooks spoke of his love for the man and the club. He addressed his audience: "Hello ladies and Jews", a fair description of the scene at the Wyndhams Theatre, where Jackie Mason is doing a "farewell" season. My companion had bought tickets at an Emunah charity do. I don't know where charity begins but it certainly isn't where we were sitting ‑- in the very front row. Not to be recommended if you don't fancy Jack-attacks about your possible sexual preferences and pathetic lack of mirth. "That's the end of the joke," he said aggressively pointing in my direction. Laugh? After that, I didn't dare to stop.

Mason makes short shrift of non-enthusiasts. Yonks ago, he spoke of a group led by a Mr Cohen from Alaska complaining about the way he stereotyped Jews. "He's got to be a fake," said Mason, "everyone knows that when the weather gets cold the Jews go to Florida."

"Jackie Mason's been 82 for decades," said my friend Ernie, from his cheaper, safer seat. If he meant Mason was a comic from another time making jokes about Yids from another time he was right. If he was talking carbon dating, he wasn't. " Fearless" Mason is three years younger than the sharper, funnier, far more fearless Joan Rivers. Only his jokes are older.

The Almighty hadn't been very helpful weather-wise

And so to Jewish Book Week, London's best literature festival - and you don't have to Jewish to believe that. You are bound to bump into someone you know or who knows you but you can't remember. I met a nice woman I didn't know - single and probably in her 30s. I am single too, but old enough to be her father. We discussed what Jackie Mason says about unmarried Jewish girls: at 20, her parents want her to get a Jewish doctor; by the time she's 40, anything with a pulse. You wouldn't mistake JBW for a disco, a JDate social or even London Fashion Week, but the nice woman said she knew every single man there (I imagine she was referring to those under pensionable age).

I, however, didn't leave without making a date: on March 22, I shall be in conversation with the distinguished Liberal rabbi, David Goldberg, at the Owl bookshop, Kentish Town Road, about his new book: This Is Not The Way. I don't know if it is or not but for me, at least, it's the way to Kentish Town Road.

Last updated: 11:48am, March 5 2012