I have recently started to feel a real kinship with Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David. I keep finding myself in awkward situations (and not only with T.A. Woman), and am regularly asking myself “Is it them, or me?!”
Now, funerals are generally a pretty safe bet. You turn up (on time), affect suitable solemnity (modulated to the age of the deceased and circumstances of death), wish the mourners “Long life” (even though you have never really understood what it means), and spend the rest of the time looking for the appropriate moment to piss off.
Safe for other people perhaps. Not for me. Not on recent form, at any rate.
Last week, I attended the funeral of my cousin’s late husband. As co-founder of Israel’s largest law firm, many of Israel’s (supposed) great and good were present.
Now, Chaim and my late father were pals, in the twenties and thirties, in Dublin’s small and extremely tight-knit Jewish community. On one occasion, when he learned that my folks were in Israel, Chaim had his driver bring them over to his residence for dinner. And, in 1996, the two Irishmen, then in their eighties, had an emotional reunion at a book-signing for Chaim’s new autobiography. He passed away a year later.
Even though I was born in London, the Isaacson Dublin connection has always brought me into warm contact with other Irish Jews. It is very much a club.
Quite apart from my father’s distinguished academic achievements at Wesley and Trinity Colleges (he tutored Chaim in maths), my grandfather Joe was shammes (beadle) at Adelaide Road Synagogue and a well-known communal character, while my uncle Percy was considered amongst the finest Jewish sportsmen to come out of the “Emerald Isle”. Moreover, their cousin, solicitor Michael Noyk famously defended many Sinn Féin Nationalists, and was a close friend and legal adviser to Republican leader Michael Collins (whose widow used to visit my grandparents’ home, following his murder in 1922).
So, being the friendly and enthusiastic soul that I sometimes am, I decided to introduce myself to Mrs. Herzog. And, on mentioning “Harold Isaacson”, I received an immediate and warm response until, in mid-sentence, she was dragged away by Isaac – perhaps slighted that I should be more interested in his mother – who proceeded to parade her (though really, and self-importantly, himself) around those he considered more shaveh (worth it).
Isaac Herzog has the bearing of what is known in Yiddish as a shnip (the closest English equivalent is probably my favoured “mook”). He is short and weasel-like in appearance – perhaps, as I discovered last week, in character too (he was also investigated, in 1999, in relation to allegations of party-funding violations, but chose to maintain his silence) – and his nickname, “Buji”, for me says everything.
Perhaps this post smacks of the snubbed. Indeed, the experience was not pleasant. Herzog’s rudeness, however, spoke volumes for the nature of Israel’s new generation of ‘leaders’ – arrogant, unremarkable, self-interested, unconnected to the past, and owing their positions to protexia (patronage/connections). The nature of Israel’s electoral system does not help, either, as MKs have no constituents to answer to.
If we wouldn’t have been at a funeral, and my rather more phlegmatic cousin, Danny, hadn’t been there to stop me, then – never a respecter of title or position – I would have said something to the Shnip.
As it was, I just drove home understanding why so many Israelis despair at what they consider Israel’s biggest problem (even more than the Palestinians and our lovely Arab neighbours): the dearth of principled young politicians, who have got where they have on the back of their own talent, charisma and achievements . . . not of who their father was.