Last year, I managed to get the term ‘goyish barmitzvah’ into a Jewish Chronicle news report.
This week, I’ve managed to get the term ‘shawarmageddon‘ into the same newspaper, this time on the front page.
This is my latest column for the Jewish Chronicle
I think most of us will have heard the allegation that Jewish people “cry antisemitism” too readily. Or the implication that you are over-vigilant against another great flare-up of this ancient, ever-present hatred.
It is basically a suggestion that you cry wolf. And it is ridiculous for so many reasons.
Most fundamentally, I would personally dispute that Jewish people tend to cry wolf.
Although I’m a goy from a very goyish Berkshire village, I have a lot of contact with Jewish people, because of my interest in Israel and Jewish mysticism.
What is ‘just vigilant enough’? Who says so?
Most of that contact centres on food and chat. Talk usually drifts on to political matters. Along with our shawarma and hummus we chew over issues such as anti-Israel prejudice and antisemitism, and the increasing tendency of the two to merge.
As an outsider who has regular contact with the community, I’ve never personally known a Jewish person whom I would describe as over-vigilant regarding antisemitism or tending to cry wolf on it.
Such people probably exist somewhere but I’ve never met them. If anything, the opposite is often the case.
Which makes it all the more galling that it is the Jewish community as a whole that, of all minority groups, is most often accused of crying wolf.
Certain individuals from, say, the gay, black or Muslim communities are sometimes similarly accused. Occasionally with good reason; every community has its members who have lost themselves in an eternal quest for self-righteousness.
Their shrieking drown out the many sincere voices in those communities, who are able to distinguish between real and imagined prejudice.
Yet no other community faces the “crying wolf” accusation en masse as regularly as the Jews. This, despite the fact that the Jews are surely the least homogenous of people. The “two Jews, three opinions” gag did not emerge from nowhere.
But, you know what? I am not sure that “crying wolf” is the worst thing you could do. Here’s why.
If you are not to be over-vigilant against antisemitism, then you are left with only two options: to be less than vigilant, or to be just vigilant enough.
The idea that you would be seriously expected forever to be just vigilant enough, never to miss the mark by even a metaphorical millimetre, is ridiculous.
It would be just as ludicrous to expect such precision in other contexts. Do we genuinely expect a parent forever to be precisely vigilant enough over their children? We would hope they would be, but would not seriously expect it.
What even is “just vigilant enough”? What does it look like, and who decides where it rests? It would be no less bizarre to request of a widow that she grieves just the right amount.
So if we agree that getting it right every time is unrealistic, it means you have to be either over- or under-vigilant.
Well, as history shows, the price to be paid for being under-vigilant against Jew-hatred can be colossal.
That price dwarfs the price to be paid for being over-vigilant. Because it is unlikely that anyone making the “crying wolf” accusation would be doing so out of good faith.
No, the “crying wolf” allegation is almost exclusively made by those who do not take antisemitism seriously – or by those who take it so seriously that they to some degree endorse it.
After all, it is easy to criticise the manner in which someone is guarding a community against a wolf if you either don’t believe the wolf exists, or if you want it to devour the members of that community. The wolf is real. Arguably no gentile – and certainly no antisemite – should ever dictate to Jews how to guard against it.
Rachel Stevens has been named FHM’s sexiest woman of all time. I remember well when I interviewed her for this cover feature. I spent three days with her. Midway through the interview itself, she took my hand, gazed into my eyes, and said: “You don’t seem nasty at all, Chas. You seem really nice.”
Which was fun.
Today I began writing my speech for the Wizo UK Rebecca Sieff Day, on June 18th.
You can find out more about the Rebecca Sieff Day here. I’d love to see you there!
Solly’s, one of my favourite shawarma restaurants on Earth, and a NW London institution, is to close this week.
This is practically apocalyptic.
Update: more on the story, including a quote from yours truly, here. Rumour on Twitter is that Solly’s may try and reopen in a new location in the autumn. Deborah Cirucel has written a heartfelt farewell to Solly’s here. For a darker side of the restaurant click here.
When the former cycling champion Lance Armstrong confessed to doping last year, it hurt me deeply.
Oprah Winfrey began her famous interview with him by asking a series of key questions, demanding ‘either a yes or no answer’.
With Lance’s every confessional ‘yes’, he stabbed me in my heart. Because I had been a believer in his miracle myth: the cancer survivor who won the Tour de France a record seven times.
The myth motivated me to run two marathons. In other areas of my life where I had to dig a bit deeper to keep going, I would sometimes draw on his story.
As evidence began to emerge that he had cheated I ignored it at first. Feeling forced to choose between an American superhero who inspired people around the world, or a bunch of cynical Irish and French journalists, I knew which side I wanted to be on.
So I advocated for his side of the story, pointing to a number of non-cheating reasons for his miraculous success, and dismissing his accusers as envious trolls, or cynical bores.
I couldn’t see the truth because I had made Lance’s lie into a beautiful lie, and his accusers’ truth into an ugly truth.
So when he finally confessed that he had cheated his way to those victories, a number of uncomfortable things hit me.
That I had fallen for a lie – but that wasn’t the worst part.
That I had advocated for a liar – but that wasn’t the worst.
No, the very worst part was when I realised that I shared in Lance’s guilt.
Lots of us did. From the moment he returned to cycling after beating cancer, the ‘miracle man’ narrative that surrounded Armstrong meant he was tacitly encouraged to cheat.
Whenever he imbibed a banned substance, people looked the other way: cycling authorities, big business and sponsors. The politicians and celebrities who queued for a moment in the spotlight with him were also in no mood look too closely.
His fans, like me, also encouraged him. Every time we bought a yellow wristband, or told him in other ways that he was inspiring us, we were unwittingly telling him he had to keep winning to keep the myth going. And in the dope-ridden sport he was competing in, to keep winning meant to keep doping.
Uncomfortable as it is to consider, even the cancer community unwittingly encouraged Lance. Every week he would receive heartfelt letters from desperately-ill people telling him that his continued victories were the only thing preventing them from curling into a ball and dying.
Facing this onslaught of money, adulation and choking responsibility, he carried on cheating. Well, what would you have done?
Lest I come across as indulging in a spot of self-flagellation, or of letting Lance off the hook, I should recall that he made the first move. He was cheating before he became a well-known cyclist.
And once he was famous he basked in the adulation. So it would not be accurate, either, to paint him as a reluctant cheat, who was all along desperate for someone to free him from his sins. After all, he set out to destroy all his accusers, seemingly reserving his most venomous attacks for women, a tendency which was, in my opinion, his most hideous offence.
But given that those of us who powered his myth share some of his guilt, it’s time for us all to offer him a chance for redemption. Having come clean, Lance wants to ride clean. But his lifetime ban condemns him to being an eternal cheat. It’s time to reconsider that position.
His admission to doping left deep wounds in cycling fans and cancer patients around the world. Lance is probably now too old to compete in the Tour de France or other leading events. But a strictly-controlled comeback in a significant cycling or triathlon event would allow wounds to heal.
He would either win clean and experience redemption, or fail clean and finally draw a line under the whole sorry saga.
Either way, it would make for a sporting spectacle of cinematic proportions, and Lance ain’t the only one who loves those.
The white in this picture represents God’s Infinite and Eternal Light (Ein Sof). Just as a black canvas is formless and contains infinite potential, the Ein Sof contains infinite possibilities and is beyond what any finite being can perceive or know. According to the Kabbalah, before the tzimtzum (the contraction of the Infinite Light that gave birth to creation) only the Ein Sof existed. The tzimtzum reveals the Ten Sefirot (Ten emanations of visible light), and these were first expressed as the ten concentric colored circles in this picture. The names of these Sefirot are written in these circles, from the largest to the smallest:
Notice how these circles are imperfect and incomplete. Creation was intentionally made that way so we can be partners with God in repairing the world (Tikkun Olam). Now look at the white circles. See how they are complete and all connected to each other? The formless Infinite Light is given form by the Sefirot, as our body expresses and gives form to our soul. If you focus your eyes on the white circles in this picture, rather than the colored ones, the picture takes on three-dimensional depth, and can be seen as either a tunnel that goes in or a cone that goes out.
Even though we are incomplete, if we are open to receive God’s Infinite Light, we can be infused with the Light of the Ein Sof that fills all levels of our being and surrounds all these levels – both within and without.
The Lurianic Kabbalah thus teaches that a straight ‘line’ of Infinite Light enters the contracted place of the tzimtzum and divides into ‘inner Light’ and ‘surrounding Light’. The surrounding Light is all the white that can be seen in this picture; the inner Light is the white that is hidden beneath the ink and paint of the colored circles.
When we look at the separate Sefirot we use (left-brain Understanding). When we look at the white (representing the Ein Sof) that is received and contained by all ten Sefirot together we use (right-brain) Wisdom. It is good to use both, as it says in Sefer Yetzirah, ‘understand with Wisdom and be wise with Understanding’.
Visit David’s Kosmic Kabbalah website here.
At the head of the potency of the King,
He engraved engravings in luster on high.
A spark of impenetrable darkness flashed
within the concealed of the concealed
from the head of Infinity…
From The Zohar.
Over the last 10 months I’ve been immersed in Zohar. So far I’ve read, and loved, nearly three of the 23 volumes.
But I’ve decided to start again. I’ve found a much better translation set, rich in poetry and splendour, so I’m happily going back to square one. Hurrah for the orchard, the book of radiance!
And this is how good it feels at Wembley, as nine years of hurt comes to an end.
‘It was the final of 1979, with Alan Sunderland’s dramatic under-the-wire winner, which made me collapse longingly at the feet of football forever. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the FA Cup Final was one of the most important days of the year for me, as joyfully anticipated and relished as Christmas Day and my birthday.
‘The television coverage began around midday. As the opening drumbeat of the Grandstand theme rang out, I would eat my first handful of crisps or, in later life, crack open my first lager, of the big day.
‘The build-up was curiously compelling: roving reporters collaring kooky fans for interviews on Wembley Way; helicopter cameras following the team buses as they inched their way to the stadium from their respective hotels; the be-suited players’ pre-match stroll on the turf, during which they would gaze around the stadium as if they had never seen turf, terracing or floodlights in their lives.’
I’ve written for the Daily Telegraph about the lost joys of cup final day. You can read the rest of my article here.