My first school was a Jewish school, just round the corner from the East London Synagogue. Only a handful of goys attended. I sat next to an olive-skinned girl called Sharon. Neither of us knew what a Jew or a goy was or wasn’t.
My mother and me lived in one room in a slightly bomb damaged house otherwise occupied by Eastern European refugees who’d fled the persecution of World War II. Upstairs a fat women called Irene provided paid services for lonely gentlemen. She was not a Jew either
I had an ‘auntie’ Flo and an ‘uncle’ Israel, and three kittens that went blind from an unknown cause. Auntie Flo had a big voice and a mountain of red candy-floss hair. Uncle Izzy was a squat little man, almost a troll, but with a heart as big as a house. Both fed the children of the square on demand with tastes still to be surpassed, goy and Jew alike. I can still taste Izzy’s baked chicken and tomato rice and feel Auntie Flo’s warm embrace.
By age ten the community had dispersed. Jews to other Jews, supplanted without a trace of irony by poor immigrant Muslims, while we state-dependent goys, without the benefit of tradition and identity, to whatever public housing scheme the government allocated. But for the purchase of two jam doughnuts from a famous and fabulous Jewish bakers in Whitechapel Road our paths were not to cross again.
… decades later I am on an American cruise ship bound for St Petersburg, Russia. My wife and me take our place at dinner and are joined by a couple, the male of which by way of introduction proclaims loudly:
“I am a Jew and we are from Australia“.
Slightly nonplussed (are Jews so rare in Oz that it warrants an announcement?)
I reply simply, “I am not”.
This is not well met by our Aussie dinner companion who continues to insist that he is a Jew from Australia seemingly expecting an appropriate response. (Does he think I’m a Mossad agent who’s forgotten the secret codeword?)
In an effort to lighten the mood I attempt a weak joke about which of us murdered Jesus but dinner continues as dourly as it began. Utterly baffled, we rush dessert and depart, thankfully never to meet them again.
I am now an anti-Semite. Not that my affections have changed or because of my experience of half-mad Australians. Not by choice. But because the New Right whose influence is now grossly over represented in England have labelled me as such and anyone else who doesn’t nod along with every squawk and action by the state of Israel.
Goys will be goys, I guess.