Preparing for the UK election with a packed bag: how it feels to be a British Jew.

Elections are always iSUITCASE1mportant but for this British election, it’s personal. On this occasion the outcome will decide whether the UK can continue to be my home.

For me as a liberal minded British Jew, this election is about the future for myself, my family and the Jewish community here as a whole. I know that if Jeremy Corbyn – or one of his allies – becomes Prime Minister then our future in the UK is untenable. I never thought I would revert to the mindset of my forebears who would talk about the necessity of keeping a bag packed – just in case. But that is where I – a formerly Labour- voting, third generation British-born Jew – find myself, as I contemplate the possibility of an institutionally anti-Semitic party leading the Government.

The events of the past year and more, with the litany of anti-Semitic insults and incidents emanating from the Labour Party have been shocking. But what has added salt to the wounds is the way in which many Labour MP’s and their supporters are willing to throw the Jewish community under the bus in pursuit of power under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

For me there is an irony in all this. I always saw the threat to the Jewish community as coming from the right (and on its extremities it still presents a very real danger). But the left was a part of my identity. I felt that belonging to the Labour Party meant being antiracist. I could never stand with a party that was compromised by institutional racism – against any group in society. I supported the Labour Party across decades as it strove to build a more equitable, just and outward-looking society.

Not very long ago I considered Labour supporters as my fellow ideological travelers; we shared the same political DNA. This no longer holds true. Those people who now cheer the Labour Party have betrayed me in exchange for a chance at power with bigots in charge. When it is your group that is being vilified and hung out to dry, the legitimacy of that party to rule no longer exists. Now every time I see a Labour poster I feel like I have been slapped across the face.

My local Labour MP, (Catherine West, Horney & Wood Green) has talked the talk on anti-Semitism, decrying anti-Jewish racism when it hasn’t cost her any political capital. But she has not expended anything in taking a real stand on behalf of the Jewish community and has run to defend Jeremy Corbyn’s position time and again. I see her out campaigning for a Party that if it becomes the government will have me and my community in its crosshairs.

We have seen how Corbyn and his allies in opposition treat us with contempt, and we know that it will only get worse if he wins power. We have watched how the Labour leader initially applauded and then pretended not to see anti-Semitic caricatures painted on walls that stare him in the face, and we have heard him declare that we ‘English Zionists’ fail to understand ‘English irony’.

We have watched how he and his cronies have turned their backs on Jewish MP’s and others who have faced mountains of abuse for pointing out the fact of anti-Semitism, and we have witnessed how they have vilified and bullied those within the Party who’ve sought to highlight anti-Jewish hatred.

The campaign to malign the Jewish community and anyone who complains about anti-Semitism is an almost daily feature of the Labour Party on the campaign trail.  John McDonnell, Corbyn’s right-hand man  has described a former Labour MP who left the party because of his rage at anti-Semitism as a Conservative stooge. In the past couple of days news has come to light of yet another Labour candidate having made an anti-Semitic slur by calling a Jewish council member ‘Shylock’. This is the true ugly face of Corbyn and Co’s politics, as the Labour Party has become a comfortable home for anti-Jewish bigotry.

To those who I used to consider my political bedfellows I have one message – you cannot do a deal with racism. If you stand with the Labour Party, you are standing with a party that is fueling anti-Semitism. And if you tolerate anti-Semitism it is only the start in a long line of hatred that will consume this country.

As a liberal-minded Jew I find myself caught between the extremism of both the Labour and Conservative Parties in their current incarnation.  Neither represent me or my values. I recently joined the Liberal Democrats as I see in them the only expression of true anti-racism and pro-Europeanism. But I am very nervous about what will happen once the votes have been counted on December 12th. Who will be in charge? Will my new party stick to its promise not to put Jeremy Corbyn (and indeed any of his allies) in power? The future feels fragile and uncertain.

I was born lucky, to parents and grandparents who contributed to this society through hard work and service. I was the beneficiary of their professional success, and of the greater openness of British society. I now wonder if that sense of belonging I inherited is illusory.

The coming election is crucial in answering these concerns about my future in the UK. The result will decide whether I need to get that packed bag out of the closet and prepare to use it.

Trying to remember the departed not the disease

Over a decade after my mother’s death I consider the lingering effects of the illness that plagued her life


My Mum’s handbag normally contained a few perennial items: balloons, sunglasses and wine gums (candies). She kept the balloons to give out to her grandchildren, great-nephews and nieces along with other kids she encountered; the sunglasses were an accessory she never did without even in the depths of winter, and the wine gums were the occasional treat she allowed herself.

Mum was idiosyncratic, and vaguely eccentric. She possessed the cut glass accent of an English Duchess – the result of childhood elocution lessons, and favoured long flowing skirts (particularly in summer) accompanied with beaded necklaces and glittering rings.

She died at the age of 62, fourteen years after my father who she always adored. The memories of her from childhood and adulthood are crystal clear, and yet at the same time they are clouded. They are blurred by the illness that she suffered for most of her life, and which also cast a long shadow over all our family.

In 1977 Mum was hurt in a house fire, which inflicted serious burns on her body and also wounded her deep within. In the wake of the accident she developed depression and then manic depression – latterly renamed bipolar disorder.

My childhood was punctuated by her periods of dark depression when she would retreat into her bedroom, emerging only occasionally as a teary-eyed and wisp-like presence. By contrast during her manic times, she was a tornado of activity, mowing the lawn at dawn, cleaning the house from top to bottom, and speaking at lightning speed as her mouth attempted to keep pace with her overactive mind.

For my Dad, my brother, sister and myself, it was generally disorientating, sometimes frightening and occasionally funny – such as the manic phase when she went on a shopping spree for Edwardian carriage clocks, which we then had to return to local antique shops.

My Mum’s illness was also our family secret. We didn’t discuss it outside the house, lending it the air of something dark and shameful.

There came a time when my Mum began to talk about it, and we took our cue from her. But mental illness is hard to discuss not only because it is painful and a social stigma persists, but also because it is so hard to explain. For those who have not experienced it at first hand, it is impossible to convey how confusing it is, not just for the sufferer but also for those caught in the immediate vicinity. The boundaries of normality become twisted and distorted, in behavior, routine and family dynamics.

For me, it was like an incendiary device going off in the heart of our family. My mother bore the brunt of the blast from her illness, but its effects spread like a destructive shock wave through us all. Family life was always held hostage by the whims of the disease. One day for no apparent reason she could be transformed from a happy smiling and dependable parent, into a mass of anxiety, fatigue and tears needing gentle care.

From my long years of observation I can only liken mental illness to cancer of the soul. That mutant force fought a relentless battle with my Mum for her essence and character. She battled the illness, trying not to let it win, and dictate how she should act, and who she would be. There were times of peace when it was kept at bay thanks to a delicate balance of medications and good fortune. But there were other long periods when the illness overcame her, wreaking its chaos upon us all.

In recalling my Mum, almost eleven years to the day since her death, I find the memories of her illness intruding upon my thoughts about the person she was, and the times we had together. We argued and bickered as a mother and child do. But there were many good times, when I got to fully enjoy her lively and loving presence.

I remember wandering through Regents Park, with her and my then girlfriend – now wife – drinking tea and gossiping as she took photos of the musicians playing on the bandstand. I recall the gentle hugs she gave and her affectionate reprimand to me not to hug her back ‘like a sack of potatoes’, and I remember her inexhaustible energy for walking in all weather and all places including through central London and the Egyptian desert.

But the problem is that I have to fight hard to get to those good memories, navigating a path between the pain, confusion and fear that the disease brought. It was like an ingrained stain that spread beyond her and that is still very hard to remove.

Bi-polar was her nemesis – and ours – to the very end, over a decade ago. She became physically unwell with a difficult to diagnose condition. But she was also in the midst of a severe manic phase, when her mind moved seamlessly between real and imagined thoughts. The doctors missed what was there, and she died. Such tragic occurrences aren’t uncommon in people with mental illnesses.

Today like every day I remember my Mum with love, but I also continue to hate her illness with a vengeance for what it robbed from her and our all family.

To know more and/or to donate go to:

Bipolar UK

The Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (USA)

London Calling

London phoneboxes2I have just returned from the annual family pilgrimage to London which involved too much time spent navigating the traffic jams and not enough time with friends and relations.

Unusually, this trip came a full year since the last jaunt to London. I am normally able to drop in a short visit thanks to work. But a whole twelve months away felt like a long time, especially as London seems to be changing at the speed of light.

Once upon a time the city could be depended upon for certain things, such as dilapidated public transport, dirty streets, mediocre food, and a sense that Londoners were enduring rather than enjoying the city.

But how things have changed. It was a shock to arrive into the brand new Heathrow Terminal 2, which not only functions well, but proved to be a pleasure to travel through with its light airy interior and inventive artistic installation – resembling an engorged metal snake. The Tube also – while not exactly a joy to experience in summer – (when will the invention of air conditioning reach the Underground?) – was clean, well lit, and efficient.

At every turn there seemed to be something new. King’s Cross where I once lived has become a haven for day trippers as opposed to tripping junkies. Where runaways, prostitutes and drunks used to fill the space in front of the station, crowds now bustle around a piazza filled with organic food stalls.

The south of the River Thames – a place that some Londoners preferred to forget existed – has become a magnet for cultural venues and business. Wandering from London Bridge Station to the Design Museum near Tower Bridge shows off both renovated Victorian warehouses and gleaming new office buildings.

Londoners themselves have been transformed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of newcomers. In the space of a couple of hours I encountered a museum guide from France, a butcher from Slovakia, a barista from Poland, and a mini-cab driver from Somalia – all had arrived in the city within the past few years, and all now called the city home.

A walk down any random street was akin to a stroll through corridors of the United Nations. London is a meeting place for work and play for millions of people from every corner of the globe.  But of course as with every success story there is a downside. The city’s population is estimated at 8.6 million; the highest number in its history. That means public services are stretched to bursting point. Travelling on a packed Tube train at rush hour requires a contortionist’s dexterity combined with a Bedouin’s tolerance for heat.

House prices have also reached stratospheric levels leaving many people literally stuck out in the cold. The city needs to build swathes of properties to house those not earning multi-digit salaries. But the current government seems more inclined to accommodate the needs of well-heeled foreign visitors seeking a bolt-hole, rather than finding space for those truly in need.

Nevertheless, the city is undergoing a renaissance based on its business friendly, creative and tolerant mindset. It is a beautiful and irresistible mish mash of architectural styles, languages, and cultures.

Of course even as some things change, so others remain stubbornly the same. The area where we were staying is thoroughly gentrified with gourmet butchers, organic cafes, and yoga studios. But the pub at the end of the high street, stands as a monument to that proud British tradition of noisy chat, irreverence and utter inebriation. And come Saturday night, the raucous drunks staggering between crushed beer cans and packets of chips served as a reminder that while London may be a world city, it still retains some old habits and traditions that make it forever……London.

Happy Birthday?

In a matter of days I will hit a half century. I am not referring to cricket scores but rather to age.

50 years old, which once (not so long ago) seemed to exist in the distant mists of time, has now descended upon me with a sudden thump.

Up until a just a few days ago, I dismissed this milestone as insignificant, amounting to just another number and a business opportunity for Hallmark.

But as the day has neared like a rapidly approaching chasm in the path of a runaway train, so I have found myself mulling over its meaning. I have been dredging my mind for memories of past (mis)adventures and speculating on future exploits.

One of the prevailing feelings in the midst of this introspection is injustice, of having been cheated – that while my birth certificate says fifty my emotional body clock is stuck somewhere in my mid-20’s. I feel like Tom Hanks in the film ‘Big’ – only with less maturity.

Never has the saying that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ felt more appropriate. It seems grossly unfair that the early years of our lives go by as if in slow motion. But as time passes, so the clock speeds up, to the point where weeks fly by like days, and years pass in the space of months.

It would be much fairer if ageing operated the other way around. Time should bound along at a canter during the early decades so that youthful mistakes, hangovers, heartbreak, and the inevitable embarrassments are quickly forgotten.

Similarly, the later years should amble by, allowing sufficient time to appreciate the achievements won, the lessons learnt, and the tastes acquired before everything draws to a very slow and satisfying close.

As it is, getting older is filled with unfair contradictions. I have a wealth of experience, but can’t remember the details. I can afford and appreciate fine food, but according to my doctor I am not meant to eat it. I can also enjoy great wine and whisky, but the merest sniff of alcohol carries the possibility of a hangover to follow.

And as I age, so I am forced to spend more (of the rapidly passing and diminishing) time carrying out running repairs on my fraying bodily fabric. Exercise which was once effortless and recreational is now an ache-filled necessity to ward off the encroaching years and added weight.

The other problem with fifty is that in chronological terms it is stranded in no-mans land. I am no longer filled with youthful vigour, yet at the same time I have not yet acquired the Obi-Wan Kenobi-like wisdom of those who have seen it all. Middle-age perfectly captures what it is to be fifty – not at the extremes or the cutting edge but rather in the somewhat featureless center.

This may sound like my birthday has all the makings of mid-life crisis, but I will not be rushing out to buy a Harley Davidson or getting “FOREVER YOUNG’ tattooed across my chest.

Firstly, crises involve a lot of effort, and at this stage of my life I have neither the energy nor the time to waste in trying to re-capture my long departed youth. Secondly, at the end of the day, even with the whining, aches, indigestion, and sprouting grey hairs there are a number of advantages to reaching fifty.

Despite decades of rank irresponsibility, some experience has been gained along the way, making the here and now more than OK. Professionally, I have become useful for something other than prison or filling man-holes, and personally I have gathered just enough maturity to have miraculously acquired the most fantastic family possible.

The truth is that the view from the perch of fifty is pretty fine. I have a lot to look back on, while also (hopefully) having a decent number of years to experience what lies ahead. At the same time, I still have the capability to enjoy life’s offerings while also (after childcare, bills, holidays, and house repairs) possessing – just about – the means to do so.

So while fifty is just another number (alongside 600 months, 18,262 days and 438,288 hours – but who’s counting?), it is also a landmark to be considered, borne and possibly even enjoyed.

Thus on July 25th I shall be raising a glass of fine wine or single malt whisky, neither too early nor too late in the day, and toasting the past while looking to the future.

L’Chaim – To Life!

Holding tight and letting go: what a child’s first time at sleep-away camp means for a Dad

campfire_kids3There’s been a long interlude between my last blog and this one. I can attempt to blame work travel, of which there has been a fair amount, or more honestly own up to a bout of inertia.

But I have been propelled into action to write by an aching heart caused by the advent of summer.

This is ironic given that the weather is glorious (apart from when it’s too humid to venture outdoors), holidays are on the horizon, and it’s the perfect season for two of my favorite activities: drinking cold beer and standing over a smoky BBQ.

The reason for my longing is the fact that Livvy – our elder daughter – is away for the first time at summer camp. She is currently in North Carolina swimming, playing sports, camping, grilling marshmallows over nighttime bonfires and seemingly having the time of her life. She headed off two weeks ago to a camp we had carefully selected as offering a down to earth fun experience, with a good sprinkling of liberal-minded Jewish values and practices thrown in.

The camp runs for over three weeks during which time, she is not allowed to call us, and we are not allowed to ring her. Phones and emails are off limits for the campers, and our knowledge of what Livvy is up to is limited to seeing daily pictures of her on the camp website.

If the width of her smile on the photos is anything to go by, then she seems to be a picture of happiness and well-being. Given the absence of letters from her (apart from a sole 40 word long note), I can only assume that she is having such a good time that she has temporarily forgotten her parents!

By contrast, I have written to her at least every other day, and we have sent two care packages with all the essentials such as new socks, stick on tattoos and Minion goggles (one of life’s essentials for any fan of ‘Despicable Me’).

When the subject of going to sleep away camp came up last year, Lysette and I reacted with similar shock and horror to the idea that our eldest (yet still young) daughter would head off hundreds of miles from home for almost a month.

In Israel and the UK, the idea of sending off a 9 year old who had only spent a night or two away from home, to the care of (trained) strangers, verged on child cruelty. But in the US – particularly among Jews – going away to sleep-away camp is a rite of passage. Added to which Livvy embraced the idea with little doubt and great enthusiasm, leaving us with the sense that to deny her this important chapter of her childhood would be surrendering to our own inhibitions.

Some of Livvy’s contemporaries have gone off for seven weeks, but the prospect of having her away for such a length of time, is too much for my close-to-home English/Israeli influenced sensibilities. As it is, I have found myself gazing longingly at her picture, and relocating to her bedroom in the middle of the night.

But despite missing her and worrying about what she is up to, I also understand the importance and value of her time at camp. She is establishing her independence, making far-away friends, learning new skills both social and practical – all without us present. She is also having a Jewish experience that is fun, positive and endlessly rich.

Edie – Livvy’s younger sister – has closely studied the pictures emanating from camp and informed us that next year, she too wants to go. I find myself greeting her pronouncement with a mixture of trepidation and pride.  I dislike the idea of not having my daughters close by, but at the same time I am admiring of their willingness to strike out on their own.

It seems only a very short while ago that Livvy and Edie were gurgling infants, who couldn’t do anything for themselves, and would cry the second we were out of sight. But time has flown by at an incredible pace, and seemingly in an instant they have been transformed into capable individuals with a strong sense of themselves and what they want.

I am only just beginning to understand that parenting is not only about guiding your children hand in hand, but also letting them stray from you to make discoveries for themselves. In that respect it’s not just my nine year old daughter who is gaining important insights from her time away at camp.

I can’t wait for Livvy to come home (7 days, 3 hours and counting!). At the same time I want the experience to stretch out for her, knowing that it will likely become engraved in her character forever.

Home and Away: how Netanyahu has got the USA all wrong

Obama-Netanyahu-1It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. That phrase could have been invented for Bibi Netanyahu and his ambassador in Washington Ron Dermer, in describing their conduct surrounding the invitation – issued behind President Obama’s back – for the Prime Minister to address Congress. It has revealed how in dealing with US neither off both of these supposedly skilled operators sees themselves as outsiders trying the win influence on a foreign field, but rather insiders playing US party politics.

That political storm that began with John Boehner’s invite and Bibi’s eager acceptance continues to rage with mounting ferocity.

In meetings last week, Congressional Democrats (stalwart supporters of Israel) roasted Dermer and accompanying Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein for snubbing of the President. Democratic House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi has said that members won’t boycott the speech but that they might also be unable to attend due to their ‘busy’ schedules. Those who have already announced they will be busy elsewhere include Vice President Biden with the most senior serving Senator, Patrick Leahy, along with a clutch of other lawmakers.

Even a few US conservatives have taken umbrage at the disrespect meted out to the President. Fox News – normally a pro-Israel bastion has delivered some harsh criticism in Bibi’s direction.

Netanyahu himself has insisted he will still speak (intimating also that he’ll be doing so for all Jews) due to the need to address the issue of Iran (but of course unconnected to the Israeli election two weeks later). But his stubbornness really speaks of a man whose judgment has become determined by an insatiable sense of his own self-importance and entitlement, at the expense of all other interests.

There is a huge irony the way this drama has unfolded. Netanyahu is judged to be the most ‘American’ of Israeli Prime Ministers. He was picked out in the early 1980’s by then Defence Minister Moshe Arens 1980’s to join the Israeli Embassy in Washington given his flawless US English, and familiarity with all things American. He did after all attend high school in Philadelphia (home also to his accent), went to college at MIT and began his career in the States. Along the way he also picked up some influential contacts. Former Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney was a close colleague from Bibi’s days at the Boston Consulting Group in the 1970’s.

Bibi has a coterie of other contacts and relationships that bind him closely to the Republican Party. Among them Sheldon Adelson, super-donor to Republican causes and backer of many things Bibi (including Yisrael Hayom – a Netanyahu friendly free newspaper). Netanyahu’s most import pollster Arthur Finckelstein who has guided him through many elections, has also worked with a range of Republican candidates including the Old Gipper, Ronald Reagan.

Over and above these relationships there is an ideological affinity that weds Bibi and the current day GOP. They share a world view that sees the world only in black and white and no shades of grey, both on the domestic and international stage; from economics to Iran.

Ron Dermer comes from the same stable as Bibi. His CV reads like that of a Republican staffer, rather than a close adviser to an Israeli Prime Minister. Miami born and raised, Dermer went to work in the 1990’s for a conservative political consultant designing the ‘Contract for America’ a political manifesto authored by (among others) Newt Gingrich. When he did make Aliya a few years later, he brought his Republican baggage (and contacts) to his new home.

Dermer and Netanyahu’s familiarity with all things American (particularly of the Republican variety) has given them a blind spot in understanding the true nature of Israel’s relationship with Washington. All Netanyahu’s predecessors – Labour and Likud – knew Israel’s place with the country’s most generous patron. Israel was a foreign state seeking the support of a global superpower. It had to observe the rules of that relationship and respect the powers in Washington accordingly. But this Prime Minister with Dermer by his side sees the relationship through the prism of their own American infused DNA, according them a place – by right – within American decision making.

John Boehner may or may not pay a political price for snubbing the President. But whatever does transpire, it will take place in the domestic sphere. Netanyahu and Dermer are using Israel’s relationship as a stake to be gambled with for their narrow political interests.

Israel’s relationship with the US has flourished in recent decades thanks to a sense of shared values as well as shared interests. When looking towards Israel, American Democrats and Republicans alike view a Middle Eastern version of themselves. They see a country founded by people fleeing persecution and in search of freedom. They see in Israel, dynamism, democracy, and self-reliance – all of which resonate across the political aisle in the US.

The US has come to share interests including: in contending with Iran, in dealing with Islamic extremism, and establishing some security from the rubble of the Arab Spring. Interests can and do change depending upon circumstances, and there are clearly some differences emerging in the mess of the current day Middle East between Israel and the US – most notably on Iran.

But shared values underpin relationships and carry weight that can be brought to bear in influencing behavior and shaping decisions. By casting in their lot so publicly with the Republicans, Netanyahu and Dermer threaten the solidity of the foundations upon which the US-Israeli relationship rests.

Current Israeli government policies are a further corrosive element. Settlement building in the West Bank – undertaken with gusto by Netanyahu – also eats away at that notion of shared values. There is only so long that Democrats and their liberal base can continue to believe that Israel is like them, when – in the absence of any prospects for a two state solution – Palestinians are denied sovereignty and basic rights alongside Israel. Provocations like going before Congress will only serve to remind many in DC of how much Netanyahu’s values are inconsistent with that of their American counterparts.

Bibi is coming to Washington to boost his credentials with Congressional Republicans and also to give himself a hand up in the Israeli election a few weeks later; it is for him and Ron Dermer a perfect mix and match of Israeli and American politics. But his over-familiarity with the US, risks breeding such contempt that it will drive a wedge between the Jewish State and its most important ally.

Remembering the past to fight hatred today

auschwitz---gateIt’s 70 years since Auschwitz was liberated and the anniversary is being marked in Poland with a gathering of international leaders at the death camp to remember the horrors undertaken there and throughout Europe by the Nazis.

The anniversary is also a natural opportunity to think about and ponder the significance of the Holocaust, how it happened, what it means today, and the lessons that can be drawn from that terrible chapter of history. The BBC decided to use the occasion to raise the issue yesterday on its appropriately named ‘The Big Questions’ TV programme asking, ‘Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest?’

The BBC is entitled to pose such a question, but it is also fair to ask, what were the programme-makers thinking?

Would they have asked: What is the point in honouring British War dead? (to coincide with Armistice Day) Or alternatively: ‘Isn’t wife-battering a private matter? (on the eve of Day of Remembrance for victims of Domestic Violence). I doubt it.

‘The Big Questions’ normally concentrates on more anodyne issues: ‘Should Parliament force the Church of England to appoint women bishops?’ Are today’s young being expected to pay too much for the baby boomers? And should governments pledge a percentage to foreign aid?

Asking such a question on the Holocaust is also telling in what it implies. The subtext suggests: ‘haven’t we heard enough about the Holocaust and isn’t it time that people (i.e. mostly Jews) stop going on about it.’

‘The Big Questions’ also raises other issues – including, what exactly is meant by laying the Holocaust to rest? Does that mean that countries should cease teaching about it in schools? Should we move memorials to the millions of Jews, Communists, Roma, homosexuals and other murdered to somewhere less public and more discrete – so we don’t have to be confronted by such nastiness?

Troublingly, the mindset of dismissing and diminishing the Holocaust which underlie such questions are to be found among significant numbers of people around the world. According to a study last year by the Anti-Defamation League, 44% per cent of people polled in France think that, ‘Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust’.

The same study revealed that in the Middle East and North Africa 38% of those questioned were aware of the Holocaust, and of that number only 8% believed in the factual historical account of what occurred.

Bluntly put, the survey reveals Holocaust fatigue twinned with growing antipathy towards Jews around the world. In the aftermath of the Second World War, anti-Semitism was drowned out (in Europe and the West) by the nightmarish images that emanated from the concentration camps. But as the generation that suffered through that orgy of Jew hatred is dying out, so anti-Semitism is springing back to life with renewed vigour.

Men, woman and children gunned down in a kosher supermarket, in a religious school, in a museum for the simple fact of being Jewish. This is happening now, within the lifetime of many Holocaust survivors in the same Europe that hunted and annihilated Jews in their millions.

In 1995, neo-Nazis desecrated a Jewish cemetery in the small French town of Carpentras as a tribute to Adolph Hitler. They exhumed one of the corpses defiling it, and destroyed over thirty graves. In protest, one hundred thousand French people led by then President, Francois Mitterand marched through the streets of Paris to protest.

In 2012, four Jews – a rabbi and three young children were murdered in their school in Toulouse by a Muslim extremist. Following that outrage, just six thousand people turned out for a rally in the city.

And if had not been for the massacre in the offices of Charlie Hebdo earlier this month, then how many would have gathered to mourn those murdered in the kosher supermarket?

Anti-Semitism on Europe's streets. Geneva, November 2014.

Anti-Semitism on Europe’s streets. Geneva, November 2014.

In France, throughout Europe and beyond, anti-Semitism has become quite literally part of the scenery. A few months ago while visiting Geneva, I passed graffiti showing a Star of David alongside a swastika. I was shocked but not surprised. The ancient hatred has found a new guise.

It is a paradox among anti-Semites the world over, from jihadists to neo-Nazis that while they wish Jews dead they also dispute the Holocaust.

So in answer to the BBC’s inane and offensive question: Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest? The answer is emphatically that such a moment must be further away than ever.

Thanksgiving is no turkey

images[8]It has been two weeks since Thanksgiving and I have almost digested the mounds of turkey meat and accompaniments consumed during the festivity. I have also had time to process the meaning of this most American of holidays.

Its origins go back right to the very founding of modern America in the early 17th century. Specifically, Thanksgiving commemorates the first successful harvest by a bunch of English Christian pilgrims who had come to the New World having fled religious persecution in the old country. They celebrated it their survival amid harsh conditions with the local Wampanoag tribe with whom they’d developed friendly relations. It was a landmark for the embryonic European settlement and also a highpoint in relations between the natives and newcomers, which later descended into displacement, death and disasters for the Indians.

Almost five hundred years on from that original meal, Thanksgiving has grown into a national happening of epic proportions. It’s hard to describe to outsiders what a big deal Thanksgiving is here. In the run up to the day, one half of the nation seems to be en-route – via crammed highways and overflowing airports –  to be with the other half, who are frenetically preparing a monumental feast.

Turkeys are the main attraction (and victim) of this annual eatathon.  According to the American Turkey Federation (yes – it really exists) in 2013,  46 million of these plump birds where eaten at Thanksgiving, compared to 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter. That means one turkey between every seven Americans, equaling a lot of poultry with room for considerable leftovers.  This consumption demonstrates the primary place this holiday has above all others in the national calendar.

Our own Thanksgiving experience with extended family in Long Island, came with all the traditional elements. A long traffic jam en-route to the gathering, vast quantities of great food, free-flowing alcohol, and a post mealtime gathering around the TV to watch the day’s big American football games (which all made sense after my second whisky).

Some things were new and strange, such a dish of baked sweet potato sprinkled with marshmallows, but it was all overwhelmingly American in its warmth, generosity and plenty.

Apart from the pleasure of eating and drinking surrounded by great company there was also for me, something deeply satisfying about the holiday itself. It is free of religious dogma, allowing people of all backgrounds to feel they can comfortably participate. Despite the fact that it has become about consumption (and post-Thanksgiving sales), there is an underlying sense that it is about paying homage to America as a country and a society, open to all its citizens.

In the run up to Thanksgiving our local kosher supermarket was stocked with freezers full turkeys sufficient to feed most of the tribes of Israel. For American Jews it’s not just the food that kosher, it’s also the holiday itself. In researching this piece, I was surprised to find backing for Thanksgiving from some of the great orthodox Rabbis.

This holiday is a celebration of American-ness for all people in the country whatever their hyphenations: Irish-American, African-American, Jewish-American and so on. This is one of the great strengths and successes of the USA , that it has managed – even with certain caveats  – to make citizenship here feel inclusive, and also to make people of wildly differing origins want to be able to be a part of this society, without having to give up on their particular background.

Thus, despite my lack of American nationality, I am also beginning to feel the draw of Thanksgiving, and not just because of the prospect of the turkey with all the trimmings.

Having a laugh – or not

usbritShortly after moving to Washington we found ourselves looking over a potential house to rent. After numerous viewings we were taken to a lovely home, tastefully decorated with shiny wood floors throughout, and within our budget.

This prompted a question from me to the realtor (a.k.a estate agent), a quietly spoken lady armed with lots of patience and even more property brochures.

‘We’re thinking of getting a dog. Would the owners be OK with that?’ I asked.

‘I think that all depends upon the size of the animal’ responded the realtor.

‘Well I was thinking about a Labrador’ I said, and then added, ‘but if it’s too big I can always chop off its paws’.

I delivered the line straight-faced, expecting to get – at least – a minor giggle by way of return for my dry wit.

Instead my comment was greeted by an expression of ever-widening horror, with the words, ‘you can’t do that’ escaping the realtor’s shocked features.

This was just the first of many examples of where my British wit, fell very flat on American ears. Now it may be that my jokes simply aren’t particularly funny in any language or culture (highly unlikely), but I contend that the true explanation lies elsewhere.

Living in the US, I have come to understand that while Brits and Americans may (nominally) speak the same language but they are also deeply separated by differing and mostly mutually untranslatable senses of humour.

Many people will no doubt dismiss my thesis, referring to the popularity of American sitcoms in the UK (Friends, Seinfeld, Frasier) as evidence to the contrary. But this is more of a statement about the excellence of US comedy writing in Hollywood that the general everyday humour found on Main Street, America. (The irony here being that US TV comedy at its best is infinitely funnier and cleverer that its equivalent in the UK).

In declaring their love of British humour, Americans will wax lyrical about Benny Hill (often humming for added emphasis the tune that accompanied him chasing after barely clad woman) and Monty Python (invariably repeating the parrot sketch). But both are much misunderstood and misrepresented on this side of the pond.

Firstly the Benny Hill TV show – the broadcast equivalent of smutty postcards found in English seaside souvenir shops – represents a comedic aberration born at a time when Britain was changing from publicly pretending sex didn’t exist to talking about it in the same vein as fart jokes.

Monty Python is seen in the over here as Benny Hill without the boobs and with a posher accent. It is in fact, a subversive, mockery of British manners and class, which gets completely lost amid the slapstick aspects of dismembered knights (the Holy Grail) and naked false Messiahs (the Life of Brian).

I have come up with various theories as to explain the differing approaches to humour found on the separate sides of the Atlantic. Americans are by culture and history more optimistic and less cynical than their Europeans counterparts. The history of the US is one of belief, hope and success.

Britishness by contrast is synonymous with disappointment. From the weather, which is constantly washing out carefully planned social arrangements (even at the height of summer), to the reality of the country’s history which has seen the it reduced from a colossus on the word stage to a sodden overcrowded island off the coast of Europe.

These differences are reflected in the humour. British gags are often self-deprecating, commenting on the inadequacies of the person making the joke. American self- confidence and belief in the potential for success doesn’t allow much room for doing yourself down.

Other national differences also seep out in what makes the two nations laugh. Ethnic humour runs deep in America’s funny bone in a way that is absent in the UK. Where would the US be without the Jewish shtick of Woody Allan, or Richard Pryor’s racially charged wit? In the UK it’s the class-system and manners that provides the fodder for comedians from John Cleese to Steve Coogan.

Given this cultural mutual mismatch, I have tried to constrain my jokey outbursts, but sometimes they can’t be helped. Just last week, I was in the supermarket at the vegetable display. All around were signs for price discounts. Next to me was a woman with a shopping trolley within which was crouched a young boy aged about five years old. Pointing at the child I said,

‘Where did you find that, are they doing special offers on them too?’

Looking at me speechlessly, she moved off at speed in the direction of the organic produce – presumably to something more appealing and entertaining!