Sunday, December 28, 2003

In this season of goodwill and cheer for the goyim outside there is something that bothers me immensely about our society.
I was invited to the Office party at the place where I work. Just so as to get the picture straight – I dress like a chassid. That is to say I wear a dark long-jacket suit, a white shirt (why do we always wear a white shirt?) a full beard and conservative dress shoes at all times (well almost) and a round black felt hat if I wear one at all. Yet I was still invited to the office party so I went.

I grant you that it felt a little funny at the beginning, but it did not take long before I began to enjoy myself. To give credit where credit is due, my non-jewish colleagues did their very best to accommodate me. They together figured out what drinks I was allowed to drink and which not. (If anybody can tell me definitively whether Cointreau is Kosher…) They spent ages trying to work out what I could eat (although Jewish comedians certainly have a point. The gentiles really don’t seem to eat much between the drink after drink that go down the hatch.) It was a fun party. As the participants got sousder and sousder some of them dared to approach me and talk about many of the things they must have been scared or embarrassed to ask in the five years that I have known most of them.

The most noteworthy comment was one young man of about 30 called Evert. He is an accountant and he studies philosophy as a hobby. Although we work pretty closely together on occasion, we have never chatted about anything outside the job on hand before. To be brutally honest I always thought he did not like either me personally or what I represent as the only Jew in the company. After we did get talking - and with the help of an advisor who has stood behind the wisdom of many a great statesman, Johnny Walker- he told me that he had been meaning to talk to me for years but never had because “you people are always so aloof”. He then went on to tell me that he had seen this program about OJs on TV and had learned that on Saturday one was not allowed to use the phone except for preservation of life. “In my mind I had this picture,” he told me, “of this Jewish tailor who goes past his shop on Saturday and notices it is burning. He can’t call the fire brigade because the danger is to property not life. He runs home and gets his wife and kids sends them upstairs above the shop and then Preservation of Life he calls 999.”

That story aside though what struck me really hard at that party was that even in a society where the media image of Jews is somewhat less than inspiring and with Israel having hit its popularity low of decades the interpersonal relationships between Jews and gentiles can be good. I could go even further and say that if our friendships are shallow at best it is because we Ojs and recovering ex-OJ are wary of letting ‘them’ get too close rather than the opposite. In Israel on the other hand, the opposite is true. The religious are not welcome in non-religious society and those making me (us) unwelcome are not ashamed of it. It is a sad truth that I am perfectly happy to go to a cinema and watch a film in peace in London, NY, or even Antwerp (one of the least Jew friendly of European cities) yet in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem I can expect at least verbal abuse.

For my money if I need a friend outside the Shteeble it would be Evert over Uzi any day.

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