That mysterious sense of Jewish connection

Some of my best friends are Jewish, jokes Daniel Finkelstein

May 18, 2018 12:25

Some of my best friends are Jewish. Well, all right, most of my best friends are Jewish. And I’ve been thinking about why.

This week, reports on the wedding of George Osborne’s brother Theo, included accounts of an Orthodox ceremony and Theo’s discovery that his maternal grandmother was Jewish. In other words, George himself is halachically Jewish.

This is the second time that one of my small circle of very close non Jewish friends has turned out, in fact, to be Jewish. Something that not only I didn’t know when we first became friends, but they didn’t know either.

In George’s case this is made even more intriguing and amusing by the fact that I have often joked to him about how he seems to have made so many close Jewish friends and how striking that was. (George has often talked about being jealous at school of his friends having barmitzvahs. Former Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub responded by presenting him with a fountain pen.)

Which has led me to wonder whether this is all more than mere coincidence.

My wife and I have a group of friends we acquired in our teens and twenties, all of whom are Jewish. There is no mystery to this. We met in Jewish youth clubs, and Jewish student societies and at the social events these groups produced.

Strictly speaking I married into this group. They were my sister’s social circle first and then I married one of her best friends. As a result many of us have known each other since we were in school.

With these people we have shared 21st birthday parties, 30ths and 50ths. We’ve been at eachother’s engagements and weddings, and at the bar and batmitzvahs of each other’s children. It is one of the great joys and blessings of our life.

That we are all Jewish is just an unspoken part of our bond. And Judaism is wrapped up in our friendship, intertwined with it.

But this is understandable because it was deliberate. I did not pick any of these friends because they were Jews, but I did pick to socialise in the community.

But then there is the undoubted bond that exists with other Jews, sometimes even complete strangers. Take, for example (although, yes, I’m fully conscious this is a ludicrous example) other Jewish members of the House of Lords.

There is no doubt that across parties and across the House there is a connection between those of us who are Jewish. It isn’t a political connection particularly (although there have been moments). It’s more a sympathy and an understanding of where we are coming from.

And also a common sense of humour. I recall sitting in the chamber waiting for the Queen to arrive to open parliament. It’s first come first serve for the best seats, and I noticed that the first dozen peers to bag a place with the best view of Her Majesty were all Jewish.

We all looked at each from different sides of the Lords and knew instinctively why it was funny. And then we began the conversation Jews have been having since the ancient of days. Where shall we have lunch?

The first time, in my early twenties, a friend (from school and also Jewish) told me I had a Jewish sense of humour I bridled slightly because I wanted to feel I was a bit more original than that. Now I love the fact that I share it.

Now again, all this is not much of a mystery. Even though we may not all share a past, we share a culture, a language, an experience. Even where we don’t have anything at all in common, there are Jewish cultural characteristics that are at least familiar.

But now and I’m speculating I wonder if this connection is, if not exactly genetic, then at least much deeper than I have ever understood. Something beyond culture, beyond social connection, beyond common experience. Something that is not explicit and certainly not explicitly understood. Something that carries on even when you have travelled so far from Judaism that you don’t know where you came from.

A sense that we are all family.

And that every time you meet another Jew for the first time, you are really taking part in a family reunion.


Daniel Finkelstein is Associate Editor of The Times


May 18, 2018 12:25

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