Much has been made on this site over the past few days about appearances. How the ultra-Orthodox appear to the irreligious, how Anglos appear to Israelis, how new immigrants appear to more established immigrants, how draft-dodgers appear to army reservists, even how sights within and across our borders appear to a lonely soldier through night-vision goggles.
One article in particular hit on some raw nerves when it touched upon the sensitive issue of how Jews are perceived across the world in the eyes of the non-Jewish world, particularly through the medium of, well, media.
As the first (and for some time the only) kippa-wearing Jew in the London Ambulance Service, it was only natural that I would be the one approached when any questions arose regarding Jews, Judaism, or anything Israel related. I’d like to think that I did a fair job of it with my real-life, somewhat irreverent attitude.
“Never discuss politics or religion,” declares the unwritten rule of the workplace. However, wearing a kippa where no kippa has ever been worn before, does both before you’ve even had the chance to open your mouth. It led to a myriad of questions and discussions, as well as understanding and confusion all at once. On many occasions I was the butt of good-spirited jokes, those good spirits guaranteed by the promise of rogelach if I worked a Friday night, doughnuts on Chanucca, hamentashen at Purim, honey cake at Rosh Hashana and a guaranteed pinch on the cheek with a cup of tea if we were ever called to a non-urgent case in either a shul or a Jewish home.
Twice in ten years and despite the wedding-ring on my finger, I was even offered a shidduch, much to the amusement of my crew mate at the time of the 90-year-old Yenta who fulfilled every stereotype possible in those few blush-inducing minutes.
The other offer went as follows:
“Are you engaged?”
“Then, have I got the daughter for you!” I only wish I had made up the wording of this sentence. It is, I assure you, verbatim.
“That’s very kind of you, but I’m not sure that my wife and children would take too kindly to the suggestion.”
“Oh. Well. Never mind.”
It was a very private conversation, outside the entrance to the emergency room at our local hospital. Very private indeed. Only a dozen or more of my colleagues were there to witness it happen. It only took a year or so to live it down.
There’s no question – we’re a funny bunch. The males of the species walk around every morning wearing funny straps and boxes. We wonder around with bits of tree for one week a year and eat in huts, whilst a different week, some six months later, means we leave trails of crumbly destruction everywhere as we crunch on indigestible crackers.
We’re either fasting or feasting, with little in-between.
There’s even a national, annual, fancy-dress party.
Trying to explain our religion, show off its beauty, show pride in who we are and what we do, is no easy task. Trying to explain in the Middle-East situation, Israel’s standpoint in particular, whilst “standing on one foot” is even more difficult. I’d like to hope that I held my own and perhaps opened one or two closed minds, if only a little.
However, my favourite question in my tenure as Chief-LAS-Jew-question-answerer was one that caught me totally off-guard. It was a question not of politics or religion per sé, more one of economics. It came a few days into Succot.
“Do your festivals get sponsored?” asked my confused colleague.
“I’m sorry? Sponsored? In what way?”
“Well, you know, like big events get corporate sponsorship deals.”
“Definitely not, but can you please explain how this question even arose in the first place?”
“Well, it was a few days ago. I was driving through Edgware the other evening (a suburb in NW London with a large Jewish population, as well as several shuls) at about eight o’clock, when there was an actual sea of people coming out of all the synagogues at the same time.”
A quick set of mental maths led me straight to the obvious – the end of Yom Kippur.
“So what’s that got to do with sponsorship?”
“Well, everyone was wearing their best clothes, you know, suits for the men, dresses and huge hats for the women.”
“Yes, Yom Kippur, despite it being a fast day, is actually a festival, so we dress up for the day.”
“I understand that,” he says, looking more flustered by the minute, “but it was the footwear that got me. What I didn’t understand was why everyone was wearing trainers! I just thought that the festival must have been sponsored by Nike or Adidas or something.”
So, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. Whether you like it or not, whether you blog about it or not, whether you wear a kippa or not, you represent who and what you are at all times. Try to make the best job of it that you can.
Oh, and if anyone wants to sponsor Yom Kippur, I reckon there’s a niche in the market. Just make sure it’s not a food company.