Julie Burchill choked with emotion as she spoke about her affinity to Jews and Israel during Sunday’s Brighton Limmud, held at Roedean School on the seafront.
More than 100 of the 600 capacity crowd heard the controversial writer describe herself as “philo-semitic”. She recalled watching The World At War TV series as a young girl and mistakenly believing that the Israeli tanks filmed during the Six-Day War were on their way to rescue Jews in Auschwitz.
The struggle of the Jewish people continued in Israel — “a tiny country fighting for its life against Islamists and antisemites. I feel much more affinity to Israeli Jews who, unlike diaspora Jews, are sick of being nice and turning the other cheek”.
She went on to term antisemitism as a virus widely carried: “There are so many ‘nice’ people in this country who are only two drinks away from antisemitism and many of them are not even aware of their illness.”
Ms Burchill also said that speaking at a Limmud had been one of her most satisfying experiences. “Seeing so many Jews in one place just makes me happy.”
Not for the first time, her opinions generated mixed audience reaction. Richard Cooper — a fan since the writer’s NME days — enthused: “She was absolutely fantastic and spoke the truth”. Amy Allen felt that because of Ms Burchill’s great emotion, “I could not deal with what she said in a rational and analytical way.”
Sold out six weeks in advance, the day offered over 50 talks and workshops. Other speakers during included JC editor Stephen Pollard, Anne Frank’s stepsister, Eva Schloss and Faith Matters director Fiyaz Mughal. Three short films from the UK Jewish Film Festival were screened.
Among children’s activities was the building of a Tower of Babel from kosher marshmallows and spaghetti under the guidance of Charlotte Rostin and Daniel Bernstein.
Sylvie Schapira of PeaceInsight, which organises a local programme bringing Israeli and Palestinian teenagers together, spoke to both adult and youth audiences.
Limmud also served as the launch of Gary Weston and Andy Devon’s “virtual community centre” sussexjewish-online, offering information, services and links.
Steering committee chairman Michael Davids reported “a tremendously positive reaction, especially about the outstanding line-up of speakers. Our aim was to create an exciting and inspired day of Jewish learning for the Jewish community, both local and from further afield, and it has been an uplifting experience for all.”