I am more restive than festive

November 24, 2016 22:02

It was chaos. There were a lot of Jews about, and so of course it was chaos. We were inside 10 Downing Street - which is often chaotic but they keep it hidden in the side rooms and at the back, up the stairs.

On the surface, things are calm - "No, no, after you, Monsieur le President". This was chaos in the state rooms, at a public reception.

It was the annual Number 10 Chanucah party and every single guest was trying to sing the blessings using a different tune.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, our host (the Prime Minister was in Zurich trying to land the World Cup, a miracle that would have been more surprising than the business with the oil lasting for eight days) looked bemused.

Just a few moments before chaos descended into complete fiasco, the Chief Rabbi rose to the occasion (as I find he often does) and sang in a loud enough voice to command obedience.

I am telling you all this because, now that it is all over, I wonder if you feel the same way that I do about Chanucah.

You see, I really enjoyed the Number 10 party. I was grateful to be invited, there were lots of people there whom I was happy to see, it was a pleasant event. At a political level, too, it's reassuring to know that Jews are so accepted in Britain that we are able to sing Maot Tzur in, effectively, the Prime Minister's living room. I wouldn't want it to stop and I wouldn't want to stop coming.

Yet at the same time - and this is such an odd, even private, feeling, that I am not sure I am expressing it right when I say it out loud - the increasingly public nature of Chanucah is making me feel… I don't know… uncomfortable.

I am not uncomfortable being a Jew in public. I do that all the time. If you are called Finkelstein and you write for a national newspaper, being a Jew in public is pretty much a done deal.

If anyone asks me, I am happy to talk about my religion. Or indeed anything else. It's not that.

So what is it? Well, partly it's the simple reason that Chanucah is not a major festival; it isn't our Christmas and I feel a bit silly pretending that it is (Don't you? Is it only me?).

I get lots of Merry Christmas cards from people who don't really wish me a merry Christmas (I got one from Gordon Brown every year he was in office and I am pretty confident he wasn't too bothered whether my Christmas was merry or not) and lots of others from companies I hardly knew existed, signed by people I don't know.

This latter set was particularly likely to include wishes for a happy Chanucah, even if by the time the card arrived the eight days were over. And I find that silly.

But it's more than that.

I think it's this: not that I am embarrassed being a Jew in public - not at all - but that I
am embarrassed to be sort of forcing other
people, people who aren't Jews, to become Jews in public.

Sometimes a friend will express an interest
in experiencing a Jewish festival. But that's different. I like having them over, and I like showing them.

It's interesting to see the ceremony through their eyes, to witness the ritual afresh. It is a
good insurance policy against being jaded. So
I like Judaism in mixed company as it were.

But sort of forced public Judaism - like all forced jollity - is less satisfying.

You feel (actually I can't speak for you - I feel) slightly patronised, even though I realise that isn't what anyone intends.

I am aware that my feelings are contradictory, and perhaps unnecessary. But there they are. Feelings all the same.

Anglicans are very polite in my experience. They are much less likely than we are to poke someone in the stomach and point out their weight gain to the assembled group with the words, "You look prosperous". And that politeness makes them feel as if perhaps it would be rude if they put up their wreaths and their trees and sang Oh Come All Ye Faithful while neglecting to light the Chanucah candles and sing whatever it is you Jewish guys sing.

And, really, it's awfully nice of them but, honestly, they needn't. We are genuinely quite happy celebrating by ourselves.

I support the state of Israel partly because I think there should be somewhere in the world where Chanucah is a public holiday. But, here in the UK, I'd just as well not have a great big menorah in Marble Arch, thank you.

Maybe you feel differently. Whatever.

November 24, 2016 22:02

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