This is my latest column for the Jewish Chronicle
As you read these words I will be either lighting Hanukah candles, spinning dreidels or noshing away on latkes. Of course I will be – I’m Jewish, for goodness sake!
Except I’m not Jewish – and as you read these words it is more likely that I will be thinking about what to buy my loved ones for Xmas, or nibbling on a prawn sandwich. Yet, thanks to my noisy support for Israel and my fascination with Jewish mysticism, people often assume I am Jewish.
Clearly, this is not because of my appearance: this is not an inversion of the ‘Funny, you don’t look Jewish’ trope. It’s just that it is widely assumed that to be supportive of Israel, or be at all interested in Judaism, you have to be Jewish, which tells its own sad story.
In the 1940s Oscar-winning film Gentleman’s Agreement, Gregory Peck plays a gentile journalist who pretends to be Jewish in order to investigate anti-Semitism in America. I seem to have inadvertently landed myself with a not dissimilar existence here in England, albeit a slightly more light-hearted version.
For instance, I argue for Israel on my blog, OyVaGoy, on social networks such as Twitter, and in real-life debates. I also give presentations about Israel at schools and colleges. I have received some colourful responses from critics of Israel over the years, as you can imagine. And despite the gentilic giveaway in my blog’s name, these critics quite often assume I am Jewish.
One furious tweeter screeched at me: “If you weren’t Jewish you would see straight through Israel’s lies!” Some days I find it hard to resist engaging with fools, so I asked him what he meant. He replied: “You only support Israel because you were brainwashed as a child at Jewish Free School. Do some research, idiot!”
I pointed out that for various reasons, chiefly because I am a gentile who grew up in south-west London, I didn’t actually go to Jewish Free School. I suggested he do some research himself. He blocked me but I felt I had made my point. Another online loon accused me of being a ‘racist Jewish punk on an anti-gentile crusade’, which sounded exhausting more than anything.
But sometimes the misunderstandings are rather sweet. On more than one occasion I have arrived at a dinner party and, before I have even taken my coat off, the hosts have assured me that they have prepared a ‘kosher’ alternative for me. If this means I get to avoid pork, which I loathe, then I’m more than happy to smile and quietly go along with the misunderstanding. It doesn’t pay to make a fuss, after all. But if I am left nibbling on salmon while other guests feast on prawns or lobster then I am more tempted to say: “I’m a goy, for Christ’s sake!”
I mostly just see it as a bit of fun. This year I ran the Windsor half marathon, which is held on a Sunday, to raise funds for Colel Chabad. One donor said to me: “You chose the Windsor race because it’s not held on the Jewish Sabbath, I assume.” Presumably she also thought I was going to run the 13.2 miles in a black suit, white shirt and furry shtreimel.
The most bizarre remark came from one of the celebrities who have hired me as a ghost-writer. We got on really well, and one day he confided in me that he was an enthusiastic pot-smoker. I told him he could feel free to indulge in front of me. “But my girlfriend told me I mustn’t ever smoke it while you are here,” he replied. “She told me – ‘Be careful with that sort of thing around Chas, he’s Jewish – or something.”’
What a description. But actually, perhaps she got closer to what I am than anyone else. I’m not Jewish. I’m Jewish – or something…