A few years ago, I was having a wash-and-blow in a newly opened hair salon, bang in the heart of Jewish north Manchester, when a woman who’d taught me at junior school came in. As she saw me, faint recognition flickered across her face, and turning to one of the stylists, she asked, not-so-sotto-voce (a privilege of the elderly), who I was. “Oh, you won’t know her,” came the breezy response. “She’s not Jewish”.
Well, the surname is a bit of a giveaway. But, as this story demonstrates, there are times when, on appearances alone, I can do a respectable Anglo-Saxon turn without being rumbled.
Not so Shneur Odze, prospective UKIP MEP for the North West of England, who’s bidding for a seat in Brussels this May. For, as is apparent from his large, black yarmulke and beard, the parliamentary candidate is, manifestly, an Orthodox Jew.
And good for him, too. Politics is, as we know, a dirty game. How brave to have a young politician who refuses to hide his birthright under a bushel — though it did cause more than the odd wince when the press reported that Mr Odze wouldn’t shake hands with women because of his religion.
But setting aside the few technical difficulties of marrying religious observance with hands-on politics, it’s clear that UKIP are thrilled to have such a peach of a candidate among their ranks.
Not only, I’m sure, because Mr Odze is a fine, dedicated party worker. But also — perhaps — because having such a Jewish poster boy onside can’t help but deflect the ongoing criticism that this right-wing anti-immigration party is allegedly racist.
Yet, does having Mr Odze comfort and convince? A recent straw poll among Jewish friends and colleagues reveals that UKIP doesn’t hold much attraction. The echoes of the past, together with the fact that many of us are second- or third-generation immigrants, make it hard to swallow the party line.
However, when I recently told a UKIP councillor whom I met through work about collective Jewish apprehension towards his party, the response was immediately to tell me about Mr Odze — “an Orthodox Jew”.
And his name was mentioned again when I approached UKIP to ask if Nigel Farage would be prepared to speak at a charity event in Manchester precisely so that he could come and address the concerns expressed by many Jews
Now, to be fair, it’s always difficult getting guest speakers to the provinces since the protagonists of government, showbiz or commercial success tend to be London-centric.
But while UKIP kindly continue to consider the request — though warning me that Mr Farage’s diary is packed — it was interesting that my email request was also passed on to Mr Odze, who immediately contacted me to see if he could be of assistance.
Now why would they do that? Was this a strategic and manipulative attempt to pacify Jewish sensibilities by flagging up the only Jew in the political village? If that wasn’t the intention, it sure as hell felt that way.
Look, let’s set aside the fact that Mr Odze, a former Tory councillor in the London borough of Hackney, is free to choose where his political affiliations lie. And his key priority of shechita is laudable, particularly in the light of recent comments by the new head of the British Veterinary Association.
After all, it’s always good to have friends in high places. But who is making the most of this friendship?
For, if UKIP, by default or design, reference Mr Odze as anything other than another political candidate in their phalanx, then it’s hard to be sure just how to regard this party.
It’s not how it looks, they may yet respond. But we all know how deceptive appearances can be…