Unusual as it might be for a Jewish person living in London, I have a soft spot for BBC agricultural programmes. As someone who spent most of his childhood growing up on a farm in Sussex, Farming Today and The Archers are high up on my listening list. The big theme in the past week has been turkeys.
On the pages of Farming Today, one of Britain’s biggest turkey breeders is pulling his hair out at the ‘rule of six’. How ghastly to have invested heavily in a relatively normal Christmas, only to find that the birds would be too big for the festive table or that families would only want a breast rather than a whole bird.
As for Ed Grundy on The Archers, as is fitting for the Ambridge chancer, he has doubled down on his turkey breeding on the grounds that quarantine and self-isolation will mean demand for home, fresh deliveries will soar.
The concern about Boris Johnson as the Grinch who stole Christmas with his unwanted rule of six has been like a lightning bolt. The Daily Mail’s editor hopefully will forgive me for breaching the confidentiality of our leader conference by letting it be known that ruination of holiday arrangements was among the reasons for the newspaper’s agitation about the latest
‘save lives and keep safe’ policy.
My contribution to this debate was to point out that the great Jewish festival season was upon us, beginning with Rosh Hashanah this coming weekend. I am not sure about the popularity of turkeys. My father was a poultry farmer and kosher butcher so it was a tradition in our family to have turkey at new year. But the rule of six already has turned our Yom Tov on its head.
As we are already committed to having my brother and one of my son’s and his girlfriend staying with us for the new year, it means we are effectively unable to legally entertain my daughter, her husband and three grandchildren.
One option (proposed by a rebellious family member) is to ignore the rule of six and, if the warden or police comes knocking on the door, pay the £100 fine (after Yom Tov) of course. And anyway, what are we going to do with all the fried and gefilte fish that my brother – the official family fryer – has been preparing after his bi-annual trip to Sam Stoller in Temple Fortune?
Putting all of these domestic questions to one side, what I found slightly more worrying about the office discussions is the lack of awareness that an intense period of Jewish celebration and prayer with the Days of Awe was upon us. And that our community would be affected months before Christmas.
Given that Jews have been back in England since the 17th century and play such a central role in Britain’s commercial, creative and intellectual life, the lack of knowledge about our central and hallowed traditions is worrying.
This is especially so after the events of last year, when antisemitism was so central to the national political dialogue. It becomes less surprising that parts of the public have a misplaced image of Jews when they know so little about us.
How different to when I and my family lived in the United States, where Jewish holidays were afforded the same joy, reverence and respect as their Christian counterparts.
Those of us who are by nature synagogue goers already had come to terms with the idea that this year the Yamim Noraim would be different – the missing choral Selichot services, pick-and-choose shift systems in shul, masks and distancing and undertone singing.
How one yearns for the days of yore of packed congregations, overflow services and the handshakes with acquaintances not seen since the last holidays. Now family gatherings look to be victims too. As dissenters say as the Yuletide season approaches, Bah humbug!
A healthy new year to all readers.