Recently, I’ve been going places. I don’t mean up in the world, I mean actual places — different places, different events — but they’ve led me to the same conclusion. Which I’m going to save for the end of this column. Don’t jump to the end. Unless you’ve got really no time, and need to finish making the lokshen pudding for Boxing Day.
Earlier in the month I went to São Paulo, in Brazil, for the Jewish Museum Literary Festival. Who knew? That such a festival existed, I mean, or even that there is a fairly large Jewish community in Brazil. I certainly didn’t — but the publication of Judeos Nao Contam this month in that country made it clear that I am, as in many things, an ignoramus. Never having been to South America, I was very keen, but after October 7, decided to make that heavy-hearted call and ask about security arrangements. I was told the museum’s were all state-of-the-art, but also that I shouldn’t worry anyway, as Brazil is a Catholic country with little history or chance of Islamist terrorism. Great, I thought, and the flight tickets were bought. Then five days before I went, BBC News (sorry to trigger JC readers with the mention of it) reported that Mossad had discovered a number of Hezbollah terror cells operating in the country, specifically dedicated to attacking Jewish targets in São Paulo.
Doh! I thought, or possibly something considerably darker and panicky. I went anyway, on the basis that the best time to go somewhere with a number of Hezbollah terror cells operating is just after they’ve been shut down by Mossad. It’s a bit like that moment in The World According To Garp when Garp buys a house just after a neighbouring one has been crashed into by a plane, on the basis that the area has been “pre-disastered”
When I got back, I was asked to light the menorah in Trafalgar Square with Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. A great honour, of course, although I will add that I was asked at 2pm on the day, Tracy-Ann Oberman having had to drop out. When I got there, expecting maybe — even at this troubled time — a bit of a crowd for this joyous event, we were in a tiny cordoned-off bit of Trafalgar Square with some bemused, mainly non-Chanukah-celebrating tourists watching. Then, lighting the candles turned out to be difficult on a wet and windy evening. The blessings and singing of Maoz Tzur was accompanied by quite a lot of “Ows!” and “Carefuls!” and forlorn attempts to shield the shammas from being blown out again.
Before all this, I’d attended the March Against Antisemitism in London in November, which I — and I assume many of you — went on. My experience of this was that it was very Jewish. That is, it consisted mainly of bumping into people I’d known in Habonim and hadn’t seen for 35 years and who expected me to remember them. I also saw my cousin Michael, and together we spoke for maybe 15 minutes about colitis. At the start of the march — I was at the back, not the front (because I wasn’t asked to be anywhere else, but I was very happy there, where many people said unbelievably nice things to me, so thank you if you were one of them) — no-one had any idea where we were going, how long it was going on for, or who was going to speak at the end.
Nonetheless it was great: it had a passion to it, was calm and endearing and, most importantly, showed support and solidarity at a time when those things were deeply needed. That is true of the other two events recounted in this column. At the Jewish Museum Festival in São Paulo, it felt like the Brazilian audience came with the same spirit (I don’t think in the end anyone who got tickets was mates with Hassan Nasrallah). And at Trafalgar Square, even though it was small and the candles burnt all our fingers, a spirit of Jewish resistance was celebrated.
So here’s the first bit of my conclusion. This is a difficult and dangerous time for Jews. But Jews are very good at something, and that something is survival. Lets put some faith in that, in that extraordinary longevity against the odds. Lets put some faith in it because — and here is the second bit of my conclusion from these events — Jews are really not good at something else, which is organising. They are terrible at it. Jews, that is, despite all the antisemites out in force, lying about it louder than ever, really don’t control the world. How the f**k we have survived, I don’t know. If I believed in Hashem I’d say it was Him. But I don’t. Which is why instead I’m going to say: Happy Christmas.