Flying the flag for chutzpah

July 02, 2012 17:30

What is the most Chutzpahdik thing you've ever done? Indulge me.

What's prompted the chutzpah talk? Maybe the summer that has steadfastly refused to arrive, or maybe the inevitability that England will never win at penalties.

So, when have you used it? The more outrageous the better. This is a new parlour game that I invented, something to while away the hours before Euro 2012 is over and the Olympics are rained off.

My friend Johnny did well with his tale of ending a relationship with a long-term girlfriend but managing to borrow £20 for a taxi home after the deed.

A reminder of the rules. What is chutzpah? Technically it describes overstepping the boundaries of accepted behaviour to the point of outcry. That's it's traditional meaning. But it's modern meaning, according to The Joys of Yiddish, is "gall, brazen nerve effrontery, but also "incredible guts". Writer Leo Rosten describes it as "that quality in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan".

I realised my passport was a year out of date

My greatest moment of chutzpah was Boxing Day 1999, when I arrived at Heathrow ready to fly to New York. To my horror, I realised my passport was a year out of date. Not only did I persuade the airline to let me board the plane with a handwritten note from the information desk, but I had the chutzpah to ask for (and get an upgrade.) For myself and my friend.

Possible contenders for Chutzpah Of the Week, in the more modern sense? Well, Jimmy Carr. Was he guilty of chutzpah when, having squirrelled away millions of taxable pounds, he took part in a sketch on the political satire programme The 10 0 Clock Show poking fun at Barclays and its attempts to keep its tax bill as low as possible? Or perhaps David Cameron, for plucking Carr out of the many tax dodgers, pointing the finger and calling him "morally wrong" while conveniently forgetting that some of his close associates and allies are guilty of the same "moral" ambiguity.

But the clear winner for Chutzpah of The Week, in the traditional, jaw-dropping way, is the Raelian Movement - a cult whose 70,000 members believe scientists from another planet called The Elohim created life on earth thousands of years ago. They celebrated "National Reclaim the Swastika Day" by flying a plane over New Jersey dragging huge swastika flags behind. When accused of antisemitism at worst and gross insensitivity at best they said that they hadn't meant to upset anyone, that Jews were a little "oversensitive" and that the swastika had been a symbol of peace for centuries. When told it represented an image so profoundly disturbing for Jewish peope, the hurt response was: "Hey, if the Jewish people would embrace its true meaning the world would stand in awe at this act of love".

They had issued no warning or explanation ahead of this effrontery. They just flew huge swastikas over a densely populated Jewish area and then got grouchy at the outcry. Now that's chutzpah.

July 02, 2012 17:30

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