Josh Glancy

Every Jewish man needs a band of Jewish brothers in his life

My male comrades and I have shared our experiences from nursery school to chupah

August 25, 2022 12:06

Sifting through the many pictures from my recent wedding, there was one that stood out. Just before they danced me down the aisle in a sort of hora scrum, I posed with my closest Jewish male friends. Hirsute, saturnine, almost all resolutely under 5’10”, this was the same group of boys who danced with me at my bar mitzvah, with only a couple of additions. And in a few decades’ time, (hopefully quite a few), whoever’s left of this group will probably walk me to my grave somewhere near the M25.

I immediately sent this picture around to the protagonists, with the hashtag #yids. I think it struck a particular chord with me because it captured something quite particular and even profound about the importance of Jewish male friendship.

Many of my closest friends, who I’ve picked up through university and beyond, are not Jewish and nor would I want them to be. My best man wasn’t Jewish and the diversity of my friendships and experiences have always been a source of pride to me. But every Jewish man needs his #yids. There’s something different about these friendships. Some of them date back to nursery school, which adds an unparalleled longevity. But even the more recent ones fill a very particular niche.

All the parts of myself that I ascribe even partially to my ethnicity: my appearance, my sense of humour, my apparently insatiable appetite, my stubborn waistline, my neuroses, my genetic predisposition towards Ritz crackers, my committed aversion to blood sports… all of these are shared almost unthinkingly among my Jewish male friends.

These relationships are always deeply rooted in a kind of common banter and self-effacement that can easily cross generations and nationalities. Show me an American, Russian, Australian or Argentinian Jewish man, and I’ll show you someone who cracks easy jokes about his growing bald patch, his disappointing football team or how convinced he is that his hairdresser is an antisemite.

It’s notable to me that even Jewish men who spend their time away from other Jews, perhaps even disdaining them, still usually want at least one Jewish friend in their lives, particularly as they grow older.

You see these friendships cropping up regularly in life and literature. One book that I’ve often bought for Jewish friends is Ostend: Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, and the Summer Before the Dark by Volker Wiedermann. It’s a short, elegiac meditation on the summer of 1939, just before darkness fully swamped Europe, and the time that Roth and Zweig spent together at the Belgian seaside resort of Ostend.

The two great writers were ill-matched as friends in some ways, Roth a far more volatile and romantic character than the more moderate Zweig. They fell out at times, too. But their friendship kept drawing them back together. At that moment of cultural despair, when the world that both knew and loved was falling apart and devastation loomed, these men found a summer of solace in each other’s letters and company.

Another favourite Jewish male friendship of mine is that of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, who together created Seinfeld, perhaps the most successful comedy show of all time. David cares little for Jewish practice or tradition; he’s never more bored than when dragged to shul. But Jewish male friendship lies at the very centre of his life. His connection to Seinfeld, who makes occasional cameos in his show Curb Your Enthusiasm, can be summed up almost entirely by the shrug and grunted “ehhh” that they sometimes greet each other with, as though to say: “You and I share the same ironic irritation with the world and its failings. You and I get it.”

Conversely, you can sense the absence of a proper Jewish friend in someone’s life too. Friends portrayed male companionship with warmth and depth but I always felt Ross was lacking a Jewish male friend. Much as they loved him, Joey and Chandler never quite understood his more neurotic outbursts or davka obsessions. A Jewish pal would have grasped these instantly and chuckled at them far more knowingly.

I think this is why the pre-chupah lads’ shot from my wedding resonated with me so deeply. In the way that only photos can, it caught all these emotions, a sense of belonging and warmth, irony and self-deprecation, love and mutual sympathy. It told the story of a lifetime of Jewish male friendship in a single, seminal moment. And in the corner of the picture are two of my very small nephews and their cousin, forming their own little group, and beginning another generation of witty and slightly undersized men.

August 25, 2022 12:06

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