Seasonal illness

December 1, 2011

I visited my doctor the other day.  Regular readers will be aware that my visits to the medical centre are not infrequent; there’s usually something wrong with me, or so it seems before the doc allays my concerns.

However, the other day I really was in a lot of trouble although you wouldn’t have thought so had you seen my GP’s face as I entered the consulting room.  As I sat down he sighed as a preamble to asking the usual questions, already mentally prepared with his answer “There’s nothing wrong with you that a nice bowl of chicken soup won’t solve.”.

 

“What’s the problem today, Mr J?” he groaned.

 

“Well, let’s see now.  Stomach pains, lack of sleep, headaches, and general malais might be the best way to describe the problem,” I replied forcefully.

“Then let’s deal with the stomach pains first.  Tell me about your eating patterns and the foods you’ve consumed recently.”

 

“Well, yes,” I began, thinking back over my diet of the previous few days.  I was determined not to allow myself to be put off by his disinterest.  As any fool will tell you, doctors know more than most about illnesses and less than any about being ill.  “I’ve been eating well as it happens.  Fruit, natural sweeteners, that sort of thing”.

 

“Can you be more specific?”

 

“Well, let’s see now.  Apples.  I’ve eaten a lot of apples, figs, dates and pomegranates.  And honey.  gallons of honey.  And honey cake.  Enormous quantities of honey cake if I’m honest.  But not so much of the unhealthy stuff.  I haven’t touched a piece of cheesecake in months”.

 

“I see” said the quack with barely disguised faux concern.  “Can you tell me precisely all the places you’ve eaten in recent weeks please?”

 

Suddenly my irritation was replaced by fear and the doctor’s position as a man of wisdom was restored.  “It’s serious isn’t it Doctor?  It’s food poisoning.  There’s been an outbreak and you need to identify the source.”

 

“No need to panic Mr J, not just yet.  I just need you to tell me, to the best of your recollection where you’ve eaten.”

 

“Where I’ve eaten?  Are you joking?  I’ve eaten in more houses over recent weeks than you’ve had hot meals!  Come to think, I’ve eaten in more houses recently than I’ve had hot meals.  Cake and fruit I’ve had plenty of, but hot meals?  Hardly any.”

 

“Alright then, what else can you tell me?”

 

Well, about two weeks ago we had one enormous meal and then I didn’t eat for a whole day.  That’s when I got the headache.  Still, that disappeared once I did eat again.  Another enormous meal with gallons of tea it was.  That’s when I came over nauseas.  It really put my constitution out of click.  I didn’t know what day it was.”

 

“I think I know what day it was,” the doctor replied sardonically.  “Carry on.”

 

I cast my mind back again.  “Various meals, of varying quality, in people’s gardens in spite of the inclement weather.  I know what you are going to say:  you should have stayed inside where it’s warm.  Believe me, I would have done, but they insisted on eating al freddo.”

 

“Don’t you mean al fresco?” The doctor asked.

 

“Not in the middle of October, I don’t” was my swift retort.

 

Finally the doctor looked me in the eye and said “I think we both know what this is all about.  Why are you wasting my time?  Don’t you know that life as a GP is busy enough as it is?”

 

“I’m sorry Doctor”, I replied, “but who else can I complain to?”

 

“Well surely your rabbi would be better than me?”

 

“My rabbi? Are you kidding?  His suggestion would be to check my mezuzahs and drink chicken soup.  At least if I come here I don’t have to get my mezuzahs checked.”

“True enough” he admitted.  “Drink chicken soup until you feel better.”

“Thank you Doctor” I said, making my way out of the consulting room.

“Oh and one other thing,” he called after me.

“Yes Doc?”

“Get your mezuzahs checked before you book another appointment with me please.”

 

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Why Jew-loving gentiles freak me out.

December 1, 2011

That Glenn Beck and his cronies have been made to feel about as welcome in Israel as a bacon butty at a bar mitzvah pleases me beyond measure.  It should be obvious to us all that these Christian Zionists are no more friends of the Jews than the English Defence League.  They are interested in us just until we have facilitated the second coming at which point they reckon we’ll all see the light and get rapture or whatever it is these dispensationalists do at the weekend, and if we don’t the second coming will swiftly be followed by the second inquisition.  All I’m saying is that none of them are on my Christmas card list.

 

But it’s not just the nutters that worry me.  There are plenty of perfectly sane and intelligent gentiles that speak up for Jews and they make me equally uncomfortable.

 

Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t want gentiles to dislikes Jews any more than they already do, however, when talk about us in such glowing terms – they’re so clever, they have such good values, they give an enormous amount to charity, yada, yada – every superlative serves only to ratchet up the stress.  I’m not that special!

 

If they’re not admiring us they’re simply obsessing about us.  I have non-Jewish friends who can’t help but refer to the fact that I’m Jewish every five minutes, usually with some pathetic joke that conveys their deep understanding of our culture.  Their liberal credentials are the back-stage pass into our world and they think it gives them permission to say such things.  I might, for example, be in a restaurant with a non-Jewish friend and he’ll come out with something hilarious like “I hear the lobster is very good here!”  Truthfully, I can’t comprehend how fascinating and exotic they find a chap who, like them, has lived his entire life in north London.

 

The worst of this group are those who, perhaps through marriage, have an official connection to Judaism.  Somehow they feel this gives them immunity from the accusation of anti-Semitism and the right to behave as if they are fully paid up Jews.  As “insiders” they imagine it’s acceptable to tell the sort of Jewish jokes we tell each other.  Well, there’s nothing more excruciating than a non-Jew, no matter how long he’s been married to a Jew, telling a Jewish joke.  This has nothing to do with comic timing; it has to do with the fact that Jewish jokes are of the Jews, by the Jews, for the Jews.  It can be the funniest Jewish joke ever told, but from the lips of a gentile, even, dare I say, a convert,  it is never, ever funny and when I hear it I feel a tiny bit more nervous about my safety in the world.

 

What this all comes down to is that as far as I’m concerned gentiles just don’t get us.  Another example is writer David Mitchell recently telling us to “lighten up” about visitors to Madame Tussauds posing with Nazi salutes alongside Adolf Hitler’s wax effigy.  His contention is that these poses are intended to ridicule rather than fête the dictator.  No doubt some of his best friends are Jews and this, he reckons, gives him the right to make his pronouncement.  However, Mitchell is saying this because for him the holocaust is something people study at school and university, while for European Jews, all of us, it partially defines who we are and we can’t handle anything that makes light of it.  Mitchell and other well-meaning non-Jews will never know that feeling.

 

So here’s a message to Glenn Beck and all those other “friends” – do me a favour and stop obsessing about Jews.  Instead, why not take up some harmless pursuit like compassless orienteering?  You’re frightening me, OK?

 


Aren’t all celebrities Yiddishe at root?

November 28, 2011

Jew-spotting used to be so much easier than it is today.  When I was a boy the family would settle down in front of the television after dinner and wait, rather as an angler settles down by a stream and waits.  At some point an actor or entertainer would come onto the screen to be greeted by my parents with an unemotional single word statement: “Jewish”.  Nowadays it’s hard to know who is Jewish and who isn’t.  New discoveries are being made in the field as quickly as technological improvements, and those discoveries as often as not turn out to be false.

In his latest stand-up performance, comedian Dave Gorman talks about how he is often mistaken for being Jewish.  Indeed he recently reached number twelve in a list of Jewish writers, two places higher than the esteemed Saul Bellow.  Imagine how big the gap would’ve been were non-Jews allowed onto the list.

I recently saw the show and to prove his point Gorman conducted a straw poll of the audience with the results falling roughly in the proportions of half thinking he was from a Christian family and half thinking he was Jewish. He need only have made the effort to survey me and Mrs J because our results fell out in exactly the same way, 50% of us thinking he was Christian, the other 50% thinking he was Jewish.

When I later asked Mrs J why she had thought the entertainer was Jewish the shocking answer came back: “well, he’s so nice, isn’t he?”  Stunned, I probed further.  “How can you say such a thing?  Are you seriously telling me that because you like him he must be Jewish?  Are you trying to say that the world divides between Jewish people who are nice and everyone else who is not nice?”

Mr Gorman is, he assured the audience in the gentlest of ways so as not to appear offended at the suggestion while feeling obliged to correct the error, an atheist from a Christian background.  However I’m not sure that he should display such confidence in this assertion.  I’m convinced that if he were to appear on the BBC programme “Who Do You Think You Are?” he would learn that his background is, after all, Jewish, since this appears to be the outcome for many of those who subject themselves to that very public exposure of family heritage.  Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that every one of those who have been on it have turned out either to have Jews or criminals in their family history, although, I’m relieved to report, only one case where the two coincided.

Viewers of the programme will know, for example, that Nigella Lawson was proved right with her hypothesis that some of her ancestors were Jewish.  Perhaps it was the Solomon and Gluckstein families, founders of the Lyons Coffee House business, that raised her suspicions? Yes, it turned out to nobody’s surprise except Nigella’s that there were, indeed, Jewish connections.  Likewise, Natasha Kaplinsky confirmed something we all knew: if you’re called Kaplinsky and your dad is South African, there’s a good chance his mob pitched up from the Pale.  More of a surprise was Olympic rowing star Matthew Pinsent’s ability to trace his roots all the way back to Adam and Eve, and now we learn that Eastenders star June Brown is of Semitic stock as well.

The truth is that the world of celebrity is made up of two groups of people:  Jews, and Jews who have yet to appear on “Who Do You Think You Are?”  Except Katie Price.  She couldn’t possibly be Jewish.  Even Dave Gorman is more Jewish than Katie Price.


Moishe’s Dilemma

August 25, 2011

My friend Moishe has been kvetching again.  This time not about his life threatening ailments – it’s his Arab neighbour who is the source of the problem.  He’s worried because he agrees with the man.

I asked what the problem was with that, telling him that some of my best friends are Arabs.  It’s not true, although I have a cordial enough relationship with my Iranian dry cleaner.

The problem, Moishe explains, is that the council is about to introduce even more restrictive parking controls in his neighbourhood and is proposing to increase the permit fees by 200%.

“So what’s this got to do with the Israel – Palestine conflict?” I ask.

“Someone told me he supports Hamas.”

“And does he?”

“He says not but he’s an Arab so you can’t trust him can you?”

“And if he does support Hamas, so what?  What’s that got to do with parking in Hendon?” I query.

“Are you joking?  How can I sit down next to a man that supports Hamas…”

“May support Hamas…” I interject

“May support Hamas, OK, how can I work together with him to fight the council’s proposals.”

“Do you want to stop the council implementing these plans?”

“Yes.”

“Does he?”

“Yes”

“So what’s the problem?  You have a common interest, fight together. Be allies!”

Moishe pondered this for all of three seconds before inflicting the coup de grace: “But once we’ve beaten the council on parking, he’ll turn on the Jews!  I can’t let that happen.  No, the thing to do is to withdraw from the whole thing. It’s better that I should have nothing to do with that terrorist. I’ll start my own separate campaign instead and I’ll only allow Jews to campaign with me.  I tell you, the more we mix with these people the more trouble we heap upon ourselves.  All this interfaith stuff, what’s the point? They all hate us.  They’re all anti-semites.  And furthermore, any Jew who stands alongside Mr Khan must be a Hamas sympathiser as well.”  Then he added, but I’m not sure why: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!”

“There’s another way,” I suggested tentatively. Moishe’s vehemence had taken me by surprise; I hadn’t seen him this worked up since Bloom’s announced it was closing down. “You could show the way forward for peace in the middle east with this opportunity” I told him.

“What?”

“Seriously.   If you work with him on this campaign he may come to realise that we Jews aren’t so terrible and you might change his attitude about Hamas.  Then he’ll tell his friends and they’ll tell theirs and before you know it, you’ll be off to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  You and Mr Khan together.  I tell you, Barnet Council won’t dare raising their permit fees by 200% if it means upsetting a couple of Nobel Peace Prize winners.”

Moishe was pensive for a minute then turned me with that deeply serious look he gives his doctor every time he informs her that he’s finally succumbed to whatever terminal illness he’s just learned about on daytime TV. “You mean today Barnet Council’s Parking department, tomorrow the world”.

“Exactly” I replied triumphantly.

“And join the ranks of those vegetarian liberal self-hating Jews!” he snapped,  “I don’t think so.  Besides, if we made peace with the Palestinians who would there be for me to fear every day?”

“There’s always daytime TV,” I meekly offered.


Passover is Finally Over

August 23, 2011

Passover is finally over.  The more religiously observant amongst you may find this a rather unusual statement to make in the middle of August, but this week I finally found the pizza cutter languishing at the back of a kitchen drawer where we throw all those daft things and tape up for the week of affliction.  I marked the discovery by returning the boxes of Pesach crockery, cutlery and cooking utensils to the garage.  They had been waiting patiently by the front door for me to perform the task.  You’ll have gathered that it’s not something I see as a particular priority, but my wife had, a couple of days earlier, threatened to leave me if she tripped over the frying pan handle that protrudes from the opening of one of the boxes one more time.

 

August is not my record.  A few years ago I succeeded in not returning the boxes for the entire year simply by hiding them under a large sheet.  However, since we had the hall decorated Mrs J has put her foot down.  Frankly, I don’t see the point of stowing it all away.  It’s always such a balagan unpacking it all.  Inevitably one box of particularly heavy items will collapse under its own weight and all for what, exactly?  A week of eating off the tatty crockery we inherited from my grandmother, that’s what.  It was tatty crockery when I was a child.  Now the dog looks upon us with pity before turning back to eat from his shiny stainless steel bowl.

 

The almighty will, I hope, forgive me when I tell you that Pesach is my least favourite festival.  It doesn’t even make my top ten.  I’d happily do all the fasts instead of Pesach. In fact the only reason I don’t currently observe all the fasts is in anticipation that the Lord will somehow offer me the deal I have in mind.  If nothing else, such an arrangement would free me from the havoc that Passover food plays with my constitution.  Every morning for days I’m reminded of what a pitiful soul I have become.

 

Nothing drags on like Seder night, not even 25 hours without food, and from me that’s really saying something; I’m a man who doesn’t eat between meals, but only because I eat eight meals a day.  Having to spend two nights in a row in the company of some fifty family members ranging from screaming overtired infants to snoring overtired geriatrics seems to be a more profound form of penitence than sitting in synagogue without food for a day.  It’s on Seder night that I make my silent petition for forgiveness for the sins I must clearly have committed to be punished in such an excruciating way, not Yom Kippur.

 

Of course the solution to all this would be to spend Passover in Israel.  That way my wife would never need to clean the house again and I’d be able to put grandma’s crockery on e-bay.  You would find me spending the week waited on, hand and foot.  I would turn up at the hotel dining room in time for the Seder meal and leave just as the songs about goats and counting start, and nobody would care a jot.  What bliss!

 

Unfortunately this is, and can only be, a dream.  Why?  Because that’s exactly what all the local alta cacas do and there’s no way I’m paying for flights to Israel at their most expensive for Seder night in a freezing air-conditioned warehouse of a hotel when half the guests are the people I see every week in shul.

 

The good thing is that at least Pesach, like my son-in-law, only visits once a year, and now it’s finally over there’s still 8 months to go before it comes round again.


Funeral Parties

August 16, 2011

Today I wish to turn my attention to delicate subject of death.  I’ll do my best to treat is as sensitively as possible knowing as I do that it’s distressing for all concerned, most especially the deceased.

I’m aware, for example, just how many JC readers anxiously turn to the Social and Personal section before anything else to check if they need to ring round their friends to make up a recently vacated place at the Monday evening kalooki table and I know how inconvenient prayers can be when at such short notice you have to find someone to take Tuesday evening’s Spurs tickets off your hands.

It would be cheap of me to make comparisons with non-Jews, so I’ll get that out of the way quickly.  A notable difference between Jews and Gentiles when it comes to dealing with death is to found in timing; they like to get the drink in their bodies before they put the body in the ground, while we prefer to get the body in the ground before we turn to the drink, which, in our case, happens to be tea.

Irish Catholics treat the mourning period as if it were a party, filling the funeral home with the trappings, sounds and smells of gaiety, while the emotional reality is lachrymose.  Jews, in contrast, conduct themselves in a sober and reflective manner, while talking endlessly about parties.  “On simchas” we all say to each other, “only on simchas”.  And what happens at those simchas?  We remember dear old Harry who would have loved to have been there had it not been for the fact that he died 37 years ago.

Actually this approach is rather clever.  Happiness is not an emotion Jews are comfortable openly expressing for fear of attracting the evil eye.  We therefore choose our moment to be happy precisely when the evil eye is not looking, that is, when it thinks it has already done its vindictive work.  Ha ha! We’ve worked out how to double bluff the evil eye.

Let’s admit it, we Jews love a shiva don’t we?  If you don’t believe me, go to any shiva house and I guarantee you’ll meet several people who have no connection with the family whatsoever.  They’re simply there for the craic.

These hearse-chasers can be seen scouring the streets of north-west London between 7.30 and 8 on any weekday evening, looking for open front doors.  In they slip, shuffling their way toward the mourners where they proffer a sympathetic hand and gently grunt the customary words “Wish you long life”, to which the reply comes, “Thank you.  And how did you know my father / mother / sister / brother?” The answer to this being “he / she knew my father / mother / sister / brother”, a tactic that removes the need for any knowledge of the deceased.  The visitor then takes his place for prayers and is later rewarded for his concern with a slice of cake and a cup of tepid tea, during the consumption of which he will wander around the room gently murmuring the words “on simchas…only on simchas” as if he is spreading information about an illegal warehouse party.

Then, before leaving he returns to his host (for that is essentially the role of the mourner under the circumstances) and repeats the blessing for a long-life, whereupon the mourner will thank him for visiting.  “It’s a pleasure”, will come the honest but somewhat insensitive reply.  Like I say, a Jew loves a shiva.


Masorti Judaism and All That

May 31, 2011

 

An embarrassment was averted at the Masorti shul I happened to visit last Shabbat.  The awkward situation arose when one hapless gentleman called to the Torah didn’t have a tallis.  Fortunately a woman came to his rescue with hers.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Masorti, allow me to explain something of the story of this group whose flavour of Judaism appeals to a small but growing section of Anglo-Jewry.  I have consulted my historian friends W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman and I am indebted to them for the following.  You might call it “1964 And All That”.

Back in the late 1950’s Rabbi Louis Jacobs wrote a book called “Believe Me, We Have a Raisin”.  In it he contended that the children of Israel did not feed on manna from heaven when wandering in the wilderness, but that they probably lived an agricultural life cultivating vines and the like.  To his annoyance nobody took much notice of the book and so a few years later in 1964 Rabbi Jacobs decided to publicise it by having an affair.  This was known as “The Jacobs Affair”.  Rabbi Jacobs’ wife was understanding but the United Synagogue was not and they refused to allow him to hold his affair either at Jews’ College where he worked, or at his old synagogue.  They said his book was a bad thing and that consequently Rabbi Jacobs was a bad rabbi.

Rabbi Jacobs’ followers were upset because they knew he was only saying what many Jews privately believed, so they helped him to form a new synagogue in London.  They didn’t know what to call the synagogue and to this day it is known as the New London Synagogue.

Rabbi Jacobs was supposed to be Chief Rabbi but when the time came to make the appointment they couldn’t get hold of him because his friends had bought the synagogue secretly and the phone number was not listed.  This infuriated Jacobs because he very much wanted the job and he blamed BT for the mix up.  Rabbi Jacobs didn’t want the same misfortune to befall another hopeful for the role of Chief Rabbi and so he wrote a manual called “Helping With Directory Enquiries”.

Time passed and while he hadn’t intended to start a movement the children of Rabbi Jacobs’ synagogue began to move out and open their own shuls.  They decided to call their shuls Masorti which comes from the Hebrew word for “transit”, thus remembering how Rabbi Jacobs was forced to keep shlepping his family and belongings from one place to another when he was trying to find a venue for his affair.

Masorti synagogues can now be found all over Europe and consequently they must comply with equal opportunities laws from Brussels.  This is why some ladies wear kippot and tallitot and some men wear sheitels and snoods.  In every other respect the service is virtually identical to that which you would find in an orthodox shul, which is no surprise because Rabbi Jacobs was an orthodox rabbi.  He just had a thing about raisins.