A post-war baby’s guide to ignorance and antisemitism

By Maureen Lipman, July 27, 2012
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My chap and I were in the car, discussing the Cologne court's ruling on circumcision. Germans were banning Muslim and Jewish religious practice, going back thousands of years. Someone on the radio defended it on the grounds that we ban female circumcision

"But it's different," I yelled. "One is a pact with our maker and the other is a bunch of male chauvinists finding a vicious way to prevent their women enjoying the pleasures of sex.''

At this point in our journey up Great Cumberland Place we may conceivably have been straddling two lanes. It's not beyond the realms - it happens, one of us yells and it's forgotten.

But we were unprepared for the horn blast that shafted us forward with its violence. At the next lights the driver pressed up close and personal and resumed his blasting. As he drove past, I lowered the window to ask what his problem was. I was disarmed by the boiled beetroot, tiny- eyed, spitting hatred of the driver's face.

It demanded a physical gesture in response

"You f***ing Jews,'' he bellowed. "You fink you own the f***ing roads, don't you?''

My first thought was how he knew from our driving that we were Jewish? All right, the car was a Volvo, but we weren't exactly wearing tefillin and sheitels or blowing a shofar out the window.

Had he recognised me? He reversed so we were window to window, and hissed: "Retire, you f***ing hasbeen. Why don't you f***ing retire?"

It was a rhetorical question that demanded a physical gesture in response, and got one. My partner, being older than I, has seen it all before and was sanguine. But I was a post-war baby and, growing up, we were the good guys in a world where Zionism was not a threat but a promise. I was shaken.

I considered writing to the firm advertised on the van. "But I won't," I told my daughter, who always thinks I'll be beaten up for my opinions. "No, he was short, red-haired and a suppurating pustule waiting to boil over - and I don't want him finding out where I live."

She sighed with relief. Whereupon, I went home and wrote to his manager - without giving my address. So I'll never know if his boss carpeted him or shook him warmly by the hand.

A few days later, in a taxi, I told the driver, en passant, about the exchange. I always have an instant rapport with taxi drivers because they were all psychologically weaned on Jack's play, The Knowledge. In this case, though he wasn't yet on solids. There was a short silence, then he sighed and scratched his head.

"Yeah… don't get me wrong… I mean, I'm not saying Hitler was a good man, like… I mean he did some shocking things… evil things… no doubt of that… killing millions and that…''

I waited for the qualifying "but". "But," he continued. "In Russia, after the war, right? Jews, like, themselves, killed like firty million, didn't they?''

At this point, it was breathe out or die, but it was followed by a sharp intake and a physical effort to stay calm. "Er, no. You've got a couple of facts wrong. It wasn't exactly 30 million. Killed by the Jews. It was… none. As in none. They were far too busy being killed themselves. Right?"

Come in, Wikipedia; come in, the Guardian; Gerald Kaufman; SOAS; the church Synod; and all the thousands of anti-Israel websites. Whatever your motives, you have much to answer for. Also, you owe that driver a tip, since he sure as hell didn't get one from me.

Jump cut to Kensington Park Gardens, where we were walking past the Yoko Ono exhibition, which I've seen and admired. She was well ahead of her time. We couldn't go in because I had my dog, Diva, with me and frankly she's ambiguous about installation art. Outside the gallery was a row of trees absolutely covered in cards, all hanging from the branches. Each one contained a written wish from every visitor.

"Have a read of one," I told my partner. "It's interesting to see what the wish is."

He picked one at random from the thousands. We both peered at the scrawled writing.

"Jews out of Palestine," it said.

Jump cut to Friday and I'm at Hasmonean School addressing an assembly hall full of young Jewish children. They are as yet untouched by prejudice, sound in their - for want of a better word - Yiddishkeit and full of belief and trust. What do they want from me? Reassurance that the world is waiting for them, for their input and their gifts, for their contributions and their opinions, and possibly their chance of fame. I look deeply into their beautiful eyes and without deviation or hesitation… I give it to them.

    Last updated: 12:45pm, July 27 2012