liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
[personal profile] randomling asked for some recs for books/movies/other media that might give me a bit of an idea of the insider's view of British Jewish culture!

This is a totally great question, thank you [personal profile] randomling! (As an aside, it is emphatically not good etiquette to pester people from minority cultures for introductory resources, but for me personally, I am very happy to answer those kinds of questions from friends, and I said this to [personal profile] randomling when they mentioned wanting to ask about media recs. And I'm usually happy to answer intro type questions from strangers too, as long as I judge they're asking in good faith.)

The obvious choice for this is Jonathan Freedland's Jacob's gift. It's specifically written to introduce British Jewish culture to interested non-Jews, as well as to his son who he felt might not otherwise understand his parents' heritage. I mean, Freedland is just one guy and his book is specifically personal, but he's trying to showcase the ways his family's story both is and isn't "representative" of the typical British Jewish experience.

Specifically about religion, but obviously including some elements of culture, I usually recommend R' Jonathan Romain's Faith and practice about Reform Judaism specifically, though it's a little dated by now. And R' Pete Tobias' A Judaism for the twenty-first century about Liberal / Progressive Judaism, which is a rather specifically British flavour of Judaism! And for generally Orthodox approaches I recommend the writing of R' Louis Jacobs. The book of Jewish belief is dated but accessible, for example. I should note that R' Jacobs got thrown out of Orthodox Judaism due to stupid politics, but his background and attitudes will I think give you something most Orthodox Jews would recognize, and he doesn't try to pretend that Orthodox Judaism is synonymous with Judaism.

As a novel, I'm somewhat fond of Naomi Alderman's Disobedience. It's not perfect, and it's set in a very particular segment of the English Jewish community, but it's much more of a (former) insider's view of that particular group than you often get, and Alderman is a sharp observer. To the point that I'm pretty sure I recognize the real people many of the characters are based on.

Other media: I haven't seen it myself but I have heard lots of people being very enthusiastic about Simon Schama's recent TV documentary The history of the Jews. It's a global history of the Jews but it was made by a British historian for British TV, so I expect it probably has a fairly British focus.

It's a very minor little comedy but The Infidel struck me as well observed and not relying on cheap stereotypes. Some of Baddiel's other stuff, novels and stand-up, mentions Jewish themes more or less centrally, and he's mocking but from an insider perspective.

It's a bit older, but husband and wife Jewish comedians Maureen Lipman and Jack Rosenthal did some quite nice affectionately self-mocking stuff, and definitely their comedy is coming from an insider perspective. Rosenthal's Bar mitzvah boy is not bad, for example. Lipman wrote a bunch of comic autobiographies which often mention her Jewish background, as well as playing the gently stereotypical Jewish mother in the old BT adverts (if you remember those) and some similar roles in other comedies.

There must be more I'm not thinking of, but let me post this just to squeak in before midnight and get back on schedule!

[December Days masterpost]

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-23 02:04 am (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
How do you feel about Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man?

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-23 02:52 am (UTC)
dafna: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dafna
Did you watch the Simon Amstel sitcom "Grandma's House"? I thought it was quite good and Rebecca Front in particular.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-23 05:13 am (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
Similarly 'Friday Night Dinner', although it's not a segment of Jews I have much experience of (cultural rather than particularly religious Jews).

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-23 09:00 am (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
I should note that R' Jacobs got thrown out of Orthodox Judaism due to stupid politics

Yes, it was partly politics, but it had more IMNSHO to do with the swing of Orthodoxy to the right. And whilst R. Jacobs identified all his life as Orthodox, he's the only right-of-Reform rabbi I've ever seen bareheaded. When I said I thought it had been universal since the time of the Rambam for observant men to keep their head covered, he said only during prayer, and that the disciples of Shimshon Raphael Hirsch were still debating in the mid-nineteenth century as to whether one had to do so when not praying or studying. As a result of which, I like to think of Louis Jacobs as the last great nineteenth century rabbi, even though he lived the whole of his life in the following two centuries.

Some of Baddiel's other atuff, novels and stand-up, mentions Jewish themes more or less centrally, and he's mocking but from an insider perspective.

Moishe Baddiel, rabbi in Newcastle when I was growing up, used to refer to David Baddiel as "my naughty cousin". ;^)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-23 09:51 am (UTC)
andrewducker: (Default)
From: [personal profile] andrewducker
Worth mentioning that Schama isn't just British, he's also Jewish.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-23 12:37 pm (UTC)
randomling: Toshiko Sato (Torchwood). "quiet hero" (tosh quiet hero)
From: [personal profile] randomling
Thank you so much for this! This is so helpful and I'm going to enjoy exploring all of these things.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-23 01:12 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
For my money, you don't want to bother with statements of belief. Nobody believes that stuff, not even the authors. I think that you are better off with the novels. I'm a big fan of Alexander Baron, especially 'low life'. It's a history of the Jews in the microcosm of a Jewish man in exile from the east end waiting for redemption to take him to Golders Green, and the almighty appears as a Bookie. I also recently read 'Rain on the Pavements' - also a portrait of the Jewish east end - by Roland Camberton. I don't like it as much, but it captures the end of yiddish Europe well and the grief and the guilt which come with being the generation that leave and perform the burial of that world.


Jack Rosenthal

Date: 2014-12-23 06:47 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The Barmitzvah Boy is gentle satire but it presents a perceptive picture of a particular Jewish culture.

I also recommend The Evacuees

This is semi-autobiographical. In addition to the normal difficulties of the children evacuated from London and other cities to escape the Blitz, Jack Rosenthal and others suffered from a total lack of knowledge of Jews and Judaism on the part of the host families. (For the record, there were also non-Jewish families who made enormous efforts to help Jewish evacuees or refugees.)

Also based on his own experiences as a Jew doing National Service in the Royal Navy is Bye Bye Baby


(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-24 11:45 am (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
Thanks for this! I suspect I will follow up some of these in my CFT. (BTW, there's a typo in the link to "Jacob's gift" - missing "m".)

Re Lipman, I remember the BT ads well from my childhood but I totally didn't pick up on them being a Jewish stereotype at the time; in fact it hadn't occurred to me at all until you mentioned it here. This probably says more about the almost complete absence of Jewish culture where I come from (0.02% of the population) than anything else, though.
Edited Date: 2014-12-24 11:46 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-26 10:58 am (UTC)
shreena: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shreena
Have you read any Natasha Solomans? I really enjoyed Mr Rosenblum's List but was a bit more ambivalent about The Gallery of Vanished Husbands

(no subject)

Date: 2015-01-08 06:49 pm (UTC)
pseudomonas: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pseudomonas
The film that I remember from when I was a teenager was Leon The Pig Farmer. A lot of it is North London Jewish types sending themselves up.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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