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Passing Jewsby Geoffrey Cohen
17 June, 2009
Racial segregation gets you into all sorts of problems. For example, America’s laws of discrimination against black people relied on the racial fiction of a strict black/white separation. ‘One drop of black blood’, so the law stated, and you were black. All of which was very difficult to prove, especially on the street, the bus or ‘white only’ venues. It led to ‘passing’ where, technically black people with fair skin would ‘pass’ as white, have white friends, go to white only events etc.
Which was fine for everyone. So long as all parties believed or acted as though the people passing were legally white, all was well. The challenge only came when the illusion was revealed. Suddenly the flawed logic of unenforcable racial discrimination would be revealed. The fiction of absolute racial division would become apparant. And hence the ‘whiteness’ of dominant America would lose the purity that the racial opression relied upon.
Of course racial segreagation has been abolished. We live in a multicultural democracy. Minorities are positively encouraged. Discrimination no longer exists: These are the new fictions of the west in which racism has headed underground, not to hide away, but to disguise itself.
Britain is far from accepting of minorities and the pendulum has swung of late against Muslims. The message from Downing street is integrate or go ‘home’. The discourse of acceptance has been replaced with one of suspicion where people who don’t openly support British values, whatever these are, or who have cultural practices unfamiliar to the British are demonised as potential terrorists. Otherness does not seem to be welcomed or even tolerated any more. Its the Britishness test or bust.
So where did the Jews go? Well actually they’re still around. You just wouldn’t know it. Take the commander in chief, Sir Rabbi Sex. Which comes first, Sir or Rabbi? Need we ask? Of course he didn’t have to pay Lord L for his ‘k’ (that’s knighthood, not ketamine), for Sir S casts himself and the Jews who follow him in the beautifully British mold prepared for him by his beloved establishment. What we witness in the silky-tones, neat bearded, in-spoken Sir-Chief is the passing Jew.
Did Sir Sex ever stop to consider the outright madness of a Jewish Knight? The people sent by King and country to spread the word of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the heathens, yes, Jews. Or does he cast himself as a crusading Christian, ready and willing to efface his Judaism if this is what acceptance means?
So the Jews are passing. Passing for fully-fledged, bona-fide, kosher English men and women. And shouldn’t we be cheering? Doesn’t this act serve to deconstruct the logic of Blair’s monocultural dream – Jews are on the inside, but no-one knows! Or rather, does the passing of Jews service that dream? It would seem that in a time when minorities need to stand up and be counted as testament to their existance, Jews are shirking the responsibility. Chosing to hide instead because they can. Attempting to be more British than the British.
So what’s in it for the passing Jew? Quite a lot it would seem. There’s the acceptance from the nation at large. No longer perceived as a threat, the passing Jew will be able to fit seamlessly. There is of course the freedom from overt Jewish practice. No embarrasing refuals at the bacon buffet. No missed days of work for chagim. And joining the establisment also affords a wonderful position of elevation, from where you can look down on the lesser biengs who don’t quite fit.
But the alternatives are far more alluring and important. What Judaism needs is for its members to be Jewish as bodly as possible. Jews need to go public, becoming a prescence in the high street that cannot be ignored, and that’s not just Golder’s Green High Street. Jewishness should be celebrated in a way which involves all members of society; bring the synagogues out onto the street. Light lag b’omer fires in your front gardens. Throw Purim parties for all. Take as many days off work as the Jewish calendar will allow – this is an obvious benefit (you still get the Christian ones you know). The benefits are huge. This public Judaism is what will scupper Blair’s monoethnic dream and it has huge benefits for the moribund Jewish community. Allowing Judaism to take its place as a rightful, challenging, subversive part of British culture will make its celebration vibrant, fulfilling and important.
Celebration of national discourse can only ever be temporarily beneficial. There is always the risk that the passing Jew will be outed and will have to suffer the consequences of being outside the culture which passing reinforces. As Jews, we need to out outselves, starting with our Chief, who, for a start, could return that knighthood of his.