I suppose it’s being able to say that some of my best friends are gentiles.
They are, I am sure, real friends,saying really nice things. The trouble is I sometimes wish that they wouldn’t. In fact, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that if there is anything worse than a really vicious antisemite, it is sometimes a really well-meaning philosemite.
Let me explain and illustrate the thought with two events and the story of two very dear people for whom I have only the greatest affection — so much affection, in fact, that if I wasn’t sure that they wouldn’t be reading this — and I trust not able to identify themselves if they would — I wouldn’t be writing this. I really wouldn’t want to upset them.
Take the case of Harry (not his real name) whom I have known for close to half a century. We often meet for dinner and talk about his love of golf (not mine) and 20th century easy listening music (both of us). The trouble is that not one meeting goes by without him talking about “those lovely Jewish people.”
I am convinced that he means it. But, in a way, I wish that he didn’t. I certainly wish that he didn’t keep telling me about them. He tells the story of Jews at his bowls club who do only nice things for fellow members and “I know they give a lot to charity”.
He frequently adds that he would be “so happy” if members of his church behaved the same way. And then comes the clincher: “You are so lucky having the Jewish family life.
Those lovely Jews like you I know have so much to offer.”
I know he says it to make me feel at ease. The trouble is I don’t. I am distinctly uncomfortable and I have to sit through variations of these phrases every time we get together. It wouldn’t be bad if it was said once and then left alone.
I wondered at our most recent dinner whether to say something to him, to stress that even for this man who hasn’t got an antisemitic bone in his body, it takes on a kind of racist tone. Should I tell him? I’m not sure. The truth of the matter is, I did decide to do so, and then I chickened out. But shouldn’t it have been a no-brainer? Just as he could make comments like he did, so should I? No, I wasn’t sure.
My late wife, Sara, wasn’t sure either. For 20-odd years we had a lovely neighbour, whom I’ll call Jane, a woman who never allowed a Christmas party or some other event at her home, down the road from ours, to go by without inviting us. On one occasion, she asked Sara to a ladies-only coffee morning, raising money for some worthy cause or other. Across a very crowded room, she called: “Sara, do you only eat kosher? I’ve got some cheese sandwiches here.”
She, too, meant only well. We had lunch with her in her new home in the South West a couple of years ago. She talked about her neighbours — but really about only one couple: “They’re Jewish, you know. They are really nice and they entertain so beautifully.”
Why make the point? I really believe that both Jane and Harry have the purest motives. I know they want me to feel at home. The trouble is, I don’t.
Is there an answer? My problem is that neither am I sure how to deal with it. I’d like them not to do the “Jew thing”. But I don’t want to hurt them.