Jewish Mum of the Year, my friends have been reminding me for weeks. “I bet you’ll be watching THAT! And Jews At Ten! And Friday Night Dinner! And that one where he marries a Jewish girl and takes her up North — Hebburn!”
Over a lovely plate of chopped liver and pastrami, no doubt, washed down by chicken soup while dancing to klezmer music. But I have seen none of them. Neither have I ever watched Curb Your Enthusiasm. I positively LOATHE Woody Allen. I despise bagels. And I don’t really have much time for families.
Yet I am a philosemite. Ever extreme, I have avoided the usual half-hearted gestures towards Jew-fancying, and cut straight to the chase. The things I love about the Jews are: their religion, their language and their ancient country. The small stuff I can take or leave.
Having considered conversion in the past, I now prefer to cheer on the Jews from the sidelines — hence the book I am writing, which you might be kind enough to sponsor by going to the Unbound website and seeking out Unchosen: Memoirs of a Philo-Semite. Truth be told, I am very much a goy, from my astonishing capacity for alcohol to my lack of respect for the institution of marriage: I actually laughed, albeit quietly, during the “forsaking all others” bit in my first two marriage ceremonies, if not during my present one — though that could have something to do with the quieting effect of old age rather than the seriousness of fidelity. A Jewish friend once observed me drinking Jack Daniels from the bottle while watching Big Brother while singing to my cat.
She stared, deadpan. “Wow — you really are a gentile, aren’t you. I forget sometimes…”
I don’t. And while I didn’t mind much being a bad Christian, it would break my black little heart to be a bad Jew. Truth be told, I find rules to live by hard to deal with, despite repeated proof that they exist for good reason. Only last month, for instance, my fellow gentile Karl and I went straight from our Hebrew class to a restaurant where we scoffed oysters like heathens coming off of a hunger strike.
Served us right, we were very sick the next day. But having little working knowledge of cause and effect, I’m sure I’ll do it again. (Though I haven’t consciously ordered pig-meat in five years, I watch my husband like a hawk, and grab any leftovers with the risibly self-righteous excuse that “it would be disrespectful to the pig to leave it on the plate”.)
There’s always one who has to spoil it for everybody else, and this is as true of philosemitism as it is of day trips to Stonehenge. There’s the odd voice here and there that pours scorn on devotion to my chosen team, but these are as often as not strange characters such as the musician and “proud self-hating Jew” Gilad Atzmon, or my late mother-in-law Fran Landesman who, when I expressed outrage that she had been barred from tennis clubs in her native America as a young Jewish girl, exclaimed: “Screw the righteous anger. I just wanted to join.”
Rather as Groucho Marx wouldn’t want to belong to any club who would have him, certain sad Jews (the type prodded with such vicious glee in Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question) have internalised the loathing that has been poured on them for centuries, and are liable to react to philosemites with confusion and spite. Such people are both sinister and silly but entirely unimportant in the face of ancient and continuing Jewish achievement, civilisation and success.
To put myself on the opposing side to a man who said, as Atzmon did, “I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act” is yet another reason to throw in my lot with you lot. I leave it to the Jewish people themselves to agonise over their future — I choose only to see the good side of you, and I see this as a perfectly honourable antidote to centuries of genocidal cruelty on the part of non-Jews towards Jews. Like many a philosemite from Ruth the Moabitess to Liz Taylor, I chose my side long ago, and I will never change. You’re stuck with me now.
Julie Burchill is crowd-funding her new book 'UNCHOSEN: Memoirs of a Philosemite' with Unbound. It will be published when it receives enough pledges from readers at www.unbound.co.uk