Why can't Jews enjoy Burns night too?

There’s no Scottish DNA in my Jewish Mizrahi roots but it doesn't mean I can't enjoy Scottish celebrations


EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - APRIL 23: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image was processed using digital filters.) A piper plays on Princess Street on April 23, 2014 in Edinburgh, Scotland. A referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country will take place on September 18, 2014. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

February 02, 2023 15:42

The other day, I posted on Facebook that I was going to a Burns Night dinner. A friend of Scottish descent asked— jokingly, I think — what my connection was with Scotland?

Well, there’s no Scottish DNA in my Jewish Mizrahi roots, and I don’t think I was even aware of Robert Burns until my late teens. I only made it to beautiful Scotland for the first time in my early 20s.

My Israeli boyfriend and I got the train from London to Edinburgh, hired a car and drove up to John o’ Groats and then down to Glasgow, via Inverness, lochs Ness and Lomond and the Caledonian canal. I’d never seen such incredible beauty before. I fell in love with both my boyfriend and with the land.

The Facebook comment didn’t bother me too much. I don’t worry about accusations of cultural appropriation. I will have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and when they were little, I took my children to Easter egg hunts and Santa’s grotto. I’ve dressed as a witch at Halloween to take the kids “trick or treating” and I’ve gone to Chinatown to enjoy the Lunar New Year and see the Chinese Dragon parade.

You don’t have to be Jewish, as the saying goes, but do you have to be Christian? Or, rather, do you have to be “not Jewish”?

We’re all invited to the ball, surely? Supermarkets lure everyone to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, chocolate at Easter, and all sorts of other foods for other festivals. And, thankfully, there aren’t restrictions in the world food aisles as to who can buy what.

The Burns Night do was great fun. I ate vegetarian haggis, carrots and neeps, listened to the haggis being “addressed” in Gaelic and then enjoyed a glorious and energetic ceilidh — the Scottish and Irish dancing that is in parts so much like dancing the horah or Hava Nagila.

Fast and flurried, circling round giddily, elbows linked with strangers as you breathlessly whirl around the dancefloor, regardless of culture, language, or ethnicity. Yep, I enjoyed that night in the middle of Hackney, some 400 miles from Robert Burns’ birthplace of Alloway.

Did I enjoy it as much as the Scottish people there? And did we, could we, enjoy it in the same way?

Did the people with only one Scottish parent enjoy it only half as much as those with two?

Did anyone mind me, an un-Scottish Jew, being there scot-free? That would be their problem, not mine.

Today I saw something I found disturbing on Facebook.

A woman showed some beautiful photos that she’d taken of rugged northern English countryside, with the caption that this was her land, the land of her ancestors, “built” by her (English) forebears and how it gave her a feeling of such pride and connection that only she “and people like her” could truly understand.

Some of her friends piled in, agreeing. One went so far as to say, “There’s something that stirs in the soul, I get that feeling just glancing over this land that no foreign born or descendant will ever feel, that strange mix of love and pride that makes us who we are.” Chilling words. And complicated…

I get the pride in one’s country bit, that’s all commendable, but, sorry mate, this is my country too.

OK, I almost certainly would feel something different driving through the Israeli Negev than he would, but as an Englishwoman who happens to be Jewish I still have a deep love of this country, and a visceral pride in it. As do my foreign-born parents.

Another comment on the post read, “These demonstrative pics evoke the Aryan genetic memory.” Sinister stuff to a Jew. Indeed, to anyone who recognises and values our shared humanity.

At the very heart of much of this is identity politics, something that I believe divides us. As long as you’re not trying to gain something by trying to trick or deceive someone into believing you are something you are not, surely you should be able to dance at as many simchahs as you want?

The Israeli boyfriend and I parted ways decades ago and the love faded away, but for Scotland my love shines bonny and bright and I’m so, so looking forward to my next visit.
Slainte! Shalom!

February 02, 2023 15:42

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