A wonderful gift, but a complicated inheritance

Tanya Gold is a journalist who has written for the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard.


By Tanya Gold, August 9, 2012
Follow The JC on Twitter

I am, I suppose, a non-Jewish Jew. I was educated at a minor English public school, I do not attend synagogue, I do not pray to God, and I am engaged to a practising Christian. (Any children we have will attend synagogue, and learn Hebrew at his insistence, not mine; he talks about something called "Dual Covenant Theology" and would prefer an alien God to a non-existent one).

At an English public school, a Jew is always an outsider; certainly it was a talking point and I was called "Jew!" quite often, more in bewilderment than hatred. And this gives one a peculiar feeling of watchfulness and impermanence, and also a desire to name yourself a Jew, partly because it irritates others so much.

My Jewishness - Judaism is too devout a word - feels like an exotic luxury, a gift I do not have to work for. I worship Freud, not a sky fairy, and although I love the stories of the Torah, the central calling of religion eludes me. I cannot give God a name, although I do not tend to atheism; to say there is nothing seems more foolish to me that saying there is something - and it is exactly like this. (The specificity of religion bewilders me - how can one be so certain? Agnosticism seems the only sensible option.)

Through this Jewishness, I feel connected to a wondrous intellectual tradition, breathtaking in its depth and richness; the tradition that created psychoanalysis, political movements that changed the world and heart-breaking literature. I have a tribe, with cousins in every country, and a homeland - should I need it - in the desert. I have the Jewish comic tradition - I often think I am one of Woody Allen's paranoid Jews - and, through my Jewish historian mother, a feel of deep connection with the Jews who came before. When I was a child, I thought I could hear their voices, when I read Singer, I see them.

There is the dark side, too - the inheritance of being chased, persecuted, burned. All European Jews are survivors and, from this knowledge, I suppose, comes the guilt. What right do I have not to believe, when those who did, died for it?

In every European capital, I tour the empty Jewish sites and think of the communities wiped out, and hate the emptiness, and those who made it. What were Jews like before the Shoah? How much did it change us? And still I do not believe in the God who makes us Jewish. Except there have always been Jews like me; I once told a rabbi, in a low voice, and blushing, I did not believe in God. "Do you think he cares?" he replied.

    Last updated: 10:37am, August 10 2012