David Angel

October 7 left me feeling more Jewish than ever

One impact of the massare has been to crystallise how we relate to the world beyond Israel


Close up image depicting a rear view of two Jewish men sitting together inside a synagogue. They have their heads bowed in prayer and they are wearing the traditional Jewish skull cap - otherwise known as a kippah or yarmulke - on their heads. Horizontal color image with copy space.

November 09, 2023 16:44

Like many of my friends who benefited from a fancy education but lacked either ambition or conviction, I have spent much of the past 15 years in the shadows, writing articles, speeches and books in other people’s names. Until now I have never expressed a personal thought for public consumption under my own byline.

I do so not because my analysis is the most vital — it is not — and very definitely not the most tragic. Alongside, and far subordinate to, the stories of pain and suffering since the October 7 massacre, I do however want the community and society in which I was raised to understand how fully its central premise — the possibility of a full and non-concessional Jewish and British identity — has imploded over the past two decades.

I was raised in the most mainstream setting for Jewish British life. We were traditional but not formally religious; visited and celebrated Israel but were not ideologically “Zionist” and had few close links within the country. I went to a secular private school, and haven’t spoken to a single non-Jewish friend since the day we left school aged 18. I suspect all of this is deeply familiar to many.

Twenty years on, my sole national adjectives are Jewish and Israeli. The complete and total radicalisation of my identity — not in the political or religious sense — was not predestined, and will become more commonplace over the next years.

In his book Halakhic Man, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik describes the experience of watching a sunset. In his framing, the beauty of the moment lies in the ability of its Jewish observer to take this natural phenomenon and translate it into practical religious action, by calculating cognitively what the changing solar status dictates in terms of prayer times and obligations.

I remember reading this passage many years ago and finding it off-putting. A sunset is an objectively beautiful moment. Why should we require our own particular Jewish lens to experience it? Today I find myself in that exact position, unable to look out at the world I come from without a deep, unwanted sense of disassociation.

Let me offer three examples, in ascending order of importance. Each alone might sound unimportant, but taken together they create a personal effect that raises real doubts about the modern Jewish project in the West, geared towards civil integration and community protection.

First popular culture. Match of the Day is a fixture in mainstream British life, hosted by Gary Lineker.  Jewish viewers now face a depressing choice. Watching as before now necessitates an act of bifurcation: to separate that part of oneself which enjoys football from that other part which reviles at those granting legitimacy to an online chorus of Jew hate, irrespective of intentions. The alternative — to switch off on principle — is no better, losing a cherished part of composite identity.

Next, values. Like many in my generation, I am concerned about climate change and enthusiastic about policy changes and technological innovation to reverse its effects. I am firmly in the group that has looked fondly at Greta Thunberg as an effective advocate rather than the ageist, sexist caricature of her. How then, to relate to her equally mindless indifference to the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust?

Finally, politics. To paraphrase Shimon Peres (“polls are like perfume — nice to smell, dangerous to swallow”), political support from Israel’s allies should be courted and celebrated but treated with the same degree of unreliability. Jeremy Corbyn could have been PM of Britain. Support from the current Labour leadership is being tested severely and may wilt. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was a steadfast friend of the Jewish community, until he wasn’t. The Conservative government has been resolute, but an electoral defeat looks inevitable.

That same dynamic applies equally in the US, where the isolationist, fickle Donald Trump is currently leading President Biden in the polls, while the Democratic Party looks unlikely to ever again produce as supportive a leader as Biden has been. In spite of Israel’s intelligence and military failures in the build up to October 7, the central premise of Zionism — that only Jewish sovereignty in our homeland safeguards the security of the Jewish People — is as true today as it was when we fled Kishinev in 1903.

None of the above is new, but current events have hardened and crystallised their effects. Personally speaking, I will not consciously start predicating my engagement with the outside world on a pre-emptive Google search to confirm what so-and-so has or has not said about Israel and Hamas. But unconsciously, the drift away from secular spaces and identifications — unwanted and unplanned — becomes more like a tide.

David Angel is a screenwriter

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November 09, 2023 16:44

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