When I was growing up I was told that manners were particularly important for Jewish children. It was essential not to offend the ‘English’ people around us. This baffled me. Surely I was as English as anyone else?
I was reminded of this when I read Christina Patterson’s article, headlined The Limits of Multi-Culturalism in the Independent this week. Ms Patterson thinks her Charedi neighbours in Stamford Hill are bad mannered. And she doesn’t seem to think they are as British as she is.
She complains about their bad driving. She didn’t like it when someone honked her in a car park. A man serving her in a shop “handled my money as if it had been dipped in anthrax”, and omitted to say “please” and “thank you”. A small boy moved when she sat next to him on the bus.
She wants women with “double-decker pushchairs and vast armies of children” to stand aside on the pavement and let her pass.
She wrote: “I would like to say to all these people that I don’t care if they wear frock-coats, and funny suits and hats covered in plastic bags, and insist on wearing their hair in ringlets (if they’re male) or covered up by wigs (if they’re female), but I do think they could treat their neighbours with a bit more courtesy and just a little bit more respect,” in a breath-taking example of do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do.
I scanned Ms Patterson’s article for proof that, as she says, “goyim were about as welcome in the Chasidic Jewish shops as Martin Luther King at a Ku Klux Klan convention”.
Had she been abused, spat at, banned from shopping in Jewish shops? No. There were no examples of anything that a Jew would recognise as prejudice or discrimination. Ms Patterson just imagines that terseness and diffidence implies hatred and disdain. It irritates her, she says.
Her article then takes a wild leap to her Muslim neighbours, their horrible hijabs and niqabs, their evil female circumcision.
She puts mutilating children on a par with driving a Volvo while using a mobile phone, suggesting that these alien groups can’t keep to the laws that govern a “civilised society”.
Faith schools teaching “sexist, racist, dangerous, violent and yes, ill-mannered, nonsense” are to blame. And if getting rid of them means sacrificing “lovely little C of E schools [that] were once an excellent place for children to learn about the religion that shaped their culture, art and laws”? Well, so be it.
I regularly shop in Stamford Hill, and I do not wear especially modest clothes. None of the shopkeepers would know that I was Jewish, yet I have never felt that I was treated rudely or with contempt.
Maybe that’s because I do not assume that the shopkeeper hates me.
I understand that an Orthodox man may prefer not to engage in conversation with a woman who is not his wife. I understand that for many their first language is Yiddish.
I’m liberal enough that it doesn’t bother me.
I see examples of rudeness and bad manners and law-breaking all the time.
People talking on mobiles while driving (hell, I’ve even done that myself, sorry Ms Patterson). Mums pushing wide buggies along narrow pavements. People who swear and shout and push into queues.
Some of those people are white, some are black and some are Muslim, Christian or Jewish. And it’s really very tempting to think “All white people are rude”, “all men are bastards” and “all left-leaning liberals are anti-semites.”
But I don’t think that. I never ever allow myself to think that. Because that would be worse than bad-mannered.
That would be downright wrong.
‘When I was Joe’ by Keren David is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books at £6.99