Two interesting pieces in The Times give pause for thought. They make you think, 'What is a Jew' and 'What is an Israeli'.
The first is a blog by Ruth Gledhill about the Jewish antecedents of the composer, Felix Mendelssohn. His music was dismissed as 'Jewish' by the Nazis, even though he himself was not.
In her brilliant fashion, Ruth links this conundrum to the recent refusal of a Jewish school in London to allow entry to a prospective pupil who was not regarded as Jewish in Jewish law, despite being so according to the definition of a Jew in English law:
Ironically, I believe that the Race Relations Act was first introduced into this country to prevent just this type of racial discrimination against the Jewish community, in the knowledge that to be Jewish is not necessarily to be Jewish religiously. However, Jewish schools which are denominationally Orthodox have a real dilemma, in that the Orthodox Jewish definition of a Jew is based in Jewish law and not necessarily in the law of the land.
The other article - a real gem - is a tongue-in-cheek appreciation, by David Baddiel, of Jewish comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen:
This particularly paragraph rang a bell:
'But here's the thing about Sacha. He's not just Jewish; he's half Israeli. So ask yourself which Jews are not full of self-doubt; which Jews aren't frightened of confrontation; which Jews are, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit mental? Yes. Sacha Baron Cohen is the Mossad of comedy, fearless, up for a fight, havoc-causing, secretive, and often, pissing a lot of people off.'
There's certainly some truth in this. When I was living in Israel, it wasn't facing Syria and Lebanon that frightened me, nor the threat of imminent war from Hamas or Hezbollah, nor the crazy Israeli driving, nor - after some time - the different varieties of creepy crawlies which inhabited the apartment at different times of the year (not to mention the rat in the toilet). No, what I really found scary was the babel of Ukranian and Russian voices which would enter the apartment with increased frequency, in order to mend the new washing machine, the telephone cable, the TV, or the computer (sometimes all at once). To start with, I couldn't understand them, even when they did speak in Hebrew, but what I really found culturally different was their absolute certainty that everything they were doing was always and absolutely one hundred percent right, even when the washing machine flooded after their visit, or the workings of the computer were even more impenetrable after they had tampered with it. Luckily, I eventually found an expert who was as English as me, i.e. relatively sane, even after living in the country for around 20 years, who was, in addition, a computer-mending genius, but never ever thought so himself, being innately modest. What a gem he was!
Talking about Mossad, I actually worked for Israeli intelligence myself for a short time. It appears that around 300 people applied for the job. And no, the job wasn't as some some undercover agent, but the rather sober one of analysing data on terrorist attacks already in the public domain, including information gathered from BBC reports.
Apparently, my apparent self-deprecating and hesitant approach at interview was so novel as to be regarded as depicting an interesting mind.
Equally, when I became a translator and editor, I was advised not to state that I spoke Hebrew, French and German fairly well, but that I was actually quadrilingual, something I couldn't ever bring myself to do. I still got the jobs, though, probably because what they needed was someone who was on time, and whose English wasn't bad.
To me this is the real clash of cultures: the Jewish predisposition to be cerebral and the Israeli predisposition to 'go for it'.
Maybe the two cultures should learn something from each other - in the meantime, even our various definitions of Jewishness are causing problems in ways that were never intended and pushing us to find a definition of Jewishness (if that were possible) which would cross the divide between the religious, the ethnic and the cultural. Because, who would want to be the pawn in the middle?