Farewells and new worries

Tracy-Ann Oberman looks back over eight years of JC columns

August 25, 2017 14:00

The year is racing on apace. The summer is nearly over and, approaching Rosh Hashanah, the evenings feel cooler already. My incredible journey playing Golde in the highly acclaimed Fiddler on The Roof at the Chichester Festival Theatre is drawing to a close. My little daughter, who in my mind’s eye is still only three years old, is off to secondary school. And this is my last column for The JC.

I wrote my first column for this paper exactly eight years ago. I had a personal mission to write feelgood stories, to keep it light and positive, I didn’t want to buy into the view that Jews were persecuted, that every criticism of Israel was veiled antisemitism, that people still harboured a warped perception of a Jewish conspiracy.

And there was much to be positive about. It felt like a shift in the zeitgeist. We found a British Jewish voice, that wasn’t defined by the Jewish experience from across the pond. Woody Allen and Seinfeld, bagels and lox were not our only touchstones. We had our own story. From Arnold Wesker revivals of East End Jewish life at The Royal Court and National Theatres and Simon Schama’s excellent BBC series The Story of The Jews; to Simon Amstell’s hilarious semi- autobiographical BBC2 comedy series Grandma’s House about being a famous Jewish boy and his simmering family relationships in Gants Hill.

I found a home as Aunty Val in Robert Popper’s multi-award-winning sitcom Friday Night Dinner about two boys returning to their Mill Hill home for Shabbat dinner each week — a fifth season was confirmed this week.

Howard Jacobson won the Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question. JW3, the gleaming, state-of-the-art Jewish community centre, threw its glass doors open to everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, with a cultural programme that celebrates our place in the UK. Yotam Ottolenghi and Honey and Co hit the top spots for go-to culinary experiences.

My media contemporaries who had hitherto kept their Jewish cultural identities pretty much to themselves were suddenly out and proud. I, too, felt able to be out and proud. There was more to being Jewish than American comedians, the Holocaust and arguing about Israel/Palestine.

I end these columns on a much more sombre note. The world has changed. In 2009, my columns were fish-and-chip paper the next day. It didn’t linger to be scrutinised, analysed or misconstrued. The consequences were minimal. But now everything has a shelf life of… well… forever, courtesy of the internet. My columns have been picked up by national newspapers, gone viral on social media and quoted time and again in interviews with magazines and other outlets. And a fear has crept in. It’s made me carefully consider what I am prepared to say above the parapet. It’s made everything much more serious. And it is more serious. We have a Labour leader who has chosen not to take antisemitism within his party seriously; a party that should fight all racism. Our university students harassed and attacked as “Zios”, civilian- targeted terrorism that is becoming the norm, a global right wing (aka alt-right Trumpland) shouting for “blood and soil” and “Jews out” in the US.

Holocaust revisionism is now an accepted debate on both the left and right. The absurd concept of a Jewish global conspiracy has reared its head again. We have global financial insecurity, extreme nationalism, dangerously inept world leaders and social discontent. If the past predicates the future, I have every right to be fearful.

But I’ve enjoyed writing this column — the connection with the community, the feedback, positive and negative, from family, friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. It’s made me question my view of the world.

I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year and only good things ahead.

August 25, 2017 14:00

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