England, Your England

“Sorry,” he proffered, as he inadvertently passed between me and the bookshelf.

“Bloody hell” I thought, after doing a brief double take, “that would never happen in Steimatzky!”

I had been browsing the Travel Writing section of my favourite bookshop – Waterstone’s (formerly Dillons) on Gower Street – as the impeccably mannered Englishman momentarily obstructed my view. This seemingly insignificant episode, however, resonated with me, demonstrating as it did the huge contrast in attitudes and behaviour between my birthplace and my homeland.

There is something lovely and serene about many aspects of life in Blighty, including the manner in which (most) folk treat each other with common courtesy and respect (if not warmth).

After a week in London (following a year and a half without a visit), however, I was ready to come home (which I did a few days later, last Thursday). Whilst enjoying the ‘civilisation’ booster, I now experience considerable difficulty in readjusting to the English, and – oddly perhaps – to English Jews especially.

This has become very apparent to me on Anglo-Jewish charity bike rides overseas, when I find it extremely testing having to spend a week and a half with a hundred, primarily North-West London coreligionists. For my last ride, in the Far East, I made my own way from Tel Aviv to the group’s hotel in Saigon. On arrival, the first person I came across, from Stanmore, on hearing that I had come from Israel, felt compelled to assure me of his Zionist credentials:

“I would never sell my flat in Herzliya Pituach.”

Oh, Theodor would have been so proud!

At last Monday’s seder (Passover meal), which I enjoyed in Muswell Hill, the Manc sitting opposite me, finding an Anglo-Israeli at the table, laid into American Jewish settlers, who – even if I don’t always agree with them – have priorities considerably more weighty than the “French château that sleeps 19” which Manc informed us he is about to lose to his ex-wife. I liked her already.

Then, clearly trying to impress the new fiancée by his side – and more closely resembling the Haggadah’s (seder service’s) Wicked Son (who tries to distance himself from the Jewish people) with every ignorant word – he became a tad bolder:

“It might have been better if Israel had never existed.”

“Your life would be a lot more precarious if it didn’t,” I fired back as if he had just dissed my mum. In fact, if the Wicked Son hadn’t been my friend’s brother-in-law, the Isaac Son might have jeopardised any future invitation by following the Haggadah’s instruction to “smash his teeth”.

The purpose of my trip was to attend an Isaacson simcha (festivity). And whilst – following the bar mitzvah of my cousin’s twins – there are two fine new Isaacson men, the speeches (including that of the Rabbi), essentially on cricket and Arsenal FC, prompted even this once sports mad teenager to think that his Isaacsons (should he, one day, surprise everyone) will grow up here.

When in England, these days, I find myself acting like a member of the Israel Tourist Board. Wicked Son excepted, I offered Melchett hospitality to everyone I met. The obvious reluctance of some to accept it, however, saddened me.

“I am not visiting until there is peace,” declared a cousin on the other, Reiss side of the family, who spends his vacations in Dubai. “I wouldn’t feel safe there” (a curious statement, I thought, considering he has never been). And another (who has a box at Arsenal) hasn’t returned since receiving poor service at his hotel’s pool during his only visit, in the Seventies.

I also dropped in on an old friend from law school, whose seemingly delightful Hampstead Garden Suburb existence – replete with BMW jeep and designer Labrador – showed me what I could have had if I didn’t love this f*cked-up country so bloody much.

The only thing that I truly do miss about Blighty is the sound of leather on willow – one even more seductive than that, from the building opposite, of “Melchett Shabbes afternoon girl” (if you get my drift) – but the politeness, the châteaus, the Premier League boxes, the Suburb, the jeeps, even the ‘proper’ dogs (only joking, Stuey and Dexx!) . . .  none of them held any real allure.

If you feel that you truly belong here, none of that “stuff” is any substitute.

[See also Why I Am Not (Really) an Englishman and the last four paragraphs of my Rosh Hashanah Message.]


7 responses to “England, Your England

  1. Nicole Monk

    English Jews just don’t get it. Period. Good article though, i think everyone who goes back to England can identify with your situation, and how we constantly are on the defensive to defend Israel.

  2. I am getting married in June and already 3 Gentile friends have expressed a desire to come to Israel and are positively excited about it.

    The one person who has been über negative is a Jewish family member, stating almost verbatim to what is quoted above, “I wouldn’t feel safe there”.

  3. Aubrey Blitz

    I don`t envy you your black sheep cousins, most of us have many who have every reason for notvisiting Israel but in all fairness–an Arsenal supporter, better he stays away

  4. well i think its great that people like you defend israel. i do however think people have a right to state their views in a closed family enviroment. my greater concern is jews who feel that they should bash israel in public. we shouldnt do our dirty laundry in public. it really upsets me how many prominent jews feel they should negate israel in public. keep up the good work

  5. Stuey & Dexy

    ‘Proper’ dogs? How about you bringing us up in a ‘Proper’ country then?

  6. Caroline Kendal

    You are lucky that you feel you belong somewhere. I think for a lot of English Jews, myself included, we don’t quite feel we belong anywhere. Too delicate for the rawness/rudeness of Israelis and their idea of poolside service and too insecure to feel quite at home in the UK. One thing I think most of us are, Wicked Son excepted, is grateful to the Zionists like yourself who maintain our second home in the Middle East. Just in case the English forget their manners and make us feel unwelcome.

    As for rabbis at simchas, someone ought to ban them. I’ve never heard a meaningful word from one of that lot at any simcha.

  7. Hi Caroline,

    I was just talking about what you wrote today.
    I think it is so easy being a Jew in Israel.
    Things us Israelis take for granted in here are something that Jews around the world don’t that at all,
    for instance – Holidays in Pesach or Rosh HaShana, or any other Jewish holidays –
    for us it is clear that we are not working that day, and also the atmosphere and vibe all around is so holiday’ish.
    It is so easy to keep Kosher in here, even in Pesach, so easy to be proud of our heritage, and when I hear people like you, having the need to defend yourselves as individuals, well, I just think it is hard. so as long as you are walking around in the UK, or anywhere around the world with your chin up, or even defending Israel, well done, and thank you.

    About Israeli men rudeness and Englishmen politeness –
    I have to say that Englishmen are not as polite as I was expecting them to be, but they are very friendly,
    and a lot of Israeli guys are rude, but very sincere, which I find, an appreciate quality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s