I was never allowed a Christmas tree. It wasn’t the done thing, even in a secular Jewish home such as mine. We did Christmas Day, of course; it’s a celebration centred around eating which, as my grandma would say, is so Jewish. “What’s not to like?” But we never had any of the sparkly bits as this was one step too far, it was just wrong. Bacon bagel wrong.
So I used to walk past other people’s houses and redecorate the trees twinkling through front-room windows.
I was so anxious to join in with the Yuletide accessorising that I tried to rebrand the whole thing in order to make it more Jewish-friendly but my mum just wasn’t buying the idea of a Chanukah bush.
We did Chanukah, of course, but it nearly always coincided with the lead-up to Christmas, which offered far camper pleasures. Despite my family’s best efforts to generate some sort of enthusiasm for the Jewish festival, for me it was a rather inferior distraction from the big day when the TV would be great and the proper gifts were given.
Today is the sixth day of Chanukah. You may have spotted a Chanukiah (a candelabra with nine branches, also called a menorah) in some people’s windows. The Chanukah festival commemorates the victory of Jews over a tyrant king (pretty much the theme of most Jewish knees-ups) and the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. As the story goes, a small quantity of oil was used to light the Temple’s menorah, which miraculously lasted eight days.
As Chanukah has come early this year I have been free of the usual Christmas distractions, so I decided to throw myself headlong into it. The first thing was to find the perfect menorah and put it in my window. There are innumerable Jewish rituals but this is the most public — the one where you show off your Jewishness to neighbours with jazz-handed pride. As I lit the first candle, an unexpected thing happened. I felt afraid. My Jewishness and my London-ness have always co-existed in perfect harmony.
The London I grew up in is a divine gift of blended communities, so I have never felt that being Jewish might be something to hide. But this year, with anti-Semitism on the rise, it suddenly feels dangerous. There were 727 incidences of anti-Jewish hate crimes recorded in the first half of this year, one of the highest figures in decades. It is more likely now than it was when I was born 40 years ago that someone may wish to harm me over my seasonal symbol of Judaism.
"The London I grew up in is a blend of communities, so I have never felt being Jewish might be something to hide"
This is profoundly unsettling, as I consider myself to be an incorrigible optimist, a sort of kosher Pollyanna. This week, each time I have lit my candles I have paused. I have remembered the Jewish school in London I spoke at where children learn behind barbed wire with armed response units; my friend, a brave Jewish MP who receives daily death threats; the time I was called a “Zio pig” on social media; and the conversation I had with someone I thought was a reasonable friend who recounted his 9/11 Jewish conspiracy.
Tonight I am going to try not to think about any of this. I have to. What a tragedy that I feel like this in my home and in the city I love.
Carole Middleton: a seriously class act
Once I was shopping for wedding shoes (my favourite pastime) with a particularly discerning girlfriend. We were at a mega-private, chi-chi boutique where there are no prices and the staff don’t do friendly.
While I was perusing the diamanté clip-ons, I noticed a letter on the wall in immaculate handwriting. It was from Carole Middleton thanking the shop and the shoe designer for their efforts.
The rise and rise of the Middleton family is in large part because of Mrs Middleton. It is perhaps easy to forget that it was her extraordinary drive that took her from Ealing council estate to grandmother of the future king.
Ambition in women is still seen as threatening and often denigrated. Reading Mrs Middleton’s recent interview (her first in 15 years), I remembered her thoughtful note in the shop and realised that her wonderful success and that of her children is because, whatever class she may have been born into, she has always been a seriously class act.
Strictly is great — when it’s all over
Actor Charles Venn was voted off Strictly last week, and like all the other departing couples, including me (in the same week), he blubbed on the sofa with Zoë Ball as a montage of his best bits was played.
From my experience, it isn’t the fact that it’s all over that makes people cry, it is the overwhelming exhaustion that suddenly hits you. It’s like being up for three months straight revising for exams. Once it’s finished there is an uncontrollable release of emotion.
Once I’d finished tearing up on national TV, I took my partner Oksana shopping —and felt instantly better.