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Saturday, 12 February 2011

The Real Finkler Question: ‘How Dare They’?

This review was first published as Book Review: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson on Blogcritics.

The Finkler Question.DustjacketTwo wickedly funny jokes run through The Finkler Question.  Both of them are deeply personal to the author.

The first is Howard Jacobson’s satirical look at the many wholly disaffected Jews in public life who make it their life’s work to loathe Israel with quite indecent passion.

The second - whose nuances  may  be absolutely clear only to Jewish readers - is that Sam Finkler’s co anti-hero, Julian Treslove is in the place where Jews have been throughout history:

He is the non-Jewish outsider desperate to be accepted in  Jewish circles. No wonder that in reality Jacobson finds himself forever “to be on the outside of every thing”.

I muse on this in a week in which ‘life has imitated art imitating life’ as  the author was heard twice in six days on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs – the programme on which Finkler betrays Israel as well as a  taste in music which displeases his wife.

Possibly by prior agreement, presenter Kirsty Young did not mention Israel during the real-life interview but whatever the reason I find this strange as Jacobson is a most able, stoic defender of the Jewish State when so many of his Jewish colleagues and friends seem bent on its destruction.Howard.Jacobson(Howard.Barlow)

He is also supposed to be the first comic writer to win the Man Booker Prize since Kingsley Amis. He is certainly the first to do it with a Jewish story.

Is this why so many reviews have used the book  as a platform for airing Jewish jokes? Or is it because the reviewers find the subject too uncomfortable to treat it with real gravity?

It is after all by turns hysterically funny, deeply sad,  very wise, often tedious - and  gratuitously filthy.

But the pivotal scene has personal resonance for me – and possibly for many other Jewish readers. It occurs when the self-hating Finkler addresses yet another anti-Israel meeting and is surprisingly and deeply angered when a non-Jewish woman in the audience accuses Israel of being

“an apartheid country ruled by racist supremacists”.

Suddenly filled with unwonted rage he retorts:

‘“How dare you, a non-Jew . . . how dare you even think you can tell Jews what sort of country they may live in, when it is you, a European Gentile, who made a separate country for Jews a necessity?” Finkler, like Jews throughout history, ran for a while, but ultimately could not hide. He could not continue to repress his Jewish soul permanently’.

It echoed not only because I now live in Israel but because I used the same phrase some months ago of one of Jacobson’s best known non-Jewish colleagues.

I, too,  felt a surge of ridiculous, unreasonable, contrary anger when I learned that Kingsley’s son, Martin said that he supported Israel and that he felt the Jewish State to be in  his blood largely because his first great love had been Jewish.Martin.Amis.Will.Self

As non-Jews, neither Jacobson’s fictional woman nor the real-life Amis have the layers of history, the atavistic pull from the heart and therefore the inherent ‘knowingness’ of what it means to be Jewish or to have a love-hate relationship with the Jewish State.

It has been suggested that Jacobson should write a ‘Finkler’ sequel. I hope he does not but that he moves on – as I have – and writes of English  Jews who settle in Israel. But that’s another question!

  • I feel duty bound to end this post on two related but different subjects.
  • I am always most distressed when I see the Yiddishised Hebrew word shiksa used with careless ease. Jacobson uses it more than once in Finkler. He should know better. The word is not simply a disdainful, disparaging vulgarism for a non-Jewish girl. That would be bad enough.
  • I was horrified to learn, inter alia, during a recent English language Talmud class,  that a group of Yeshiva (Talmudic Academy) boys had been using the word with quite jolly abandon  to describe anything they decided was not kosher or otherwise offensive to them.
  • The odious word shiksa is derived in part from the Hebrew term שקץ  or שכץ (sheketz) which means "abomination", "impure," or "object of loathing", depending on the translator.  The equivalent term for a non-Jewish male is shegetz.
  • If you are a Jewish reader please refrain from using these words of non-Jews. If you are non-Jewish, please do not allow any Jewish acquaintance to use them of you or any fellow non-Jews.
  • More happily,  it is clear that a select band of budding Jacobsons and Amises intend rushing  to Israel where the general Anglo literatti fear to tread!
  • While Jacobson’s fellow ex-Mancunian, film director Mike Leigh,  changed his mind about visiting Israel, the British Council Israel has a February diary chock-a-bloc with  visitors from Britain. I am republishing it with minimal editing, so I am not responsible for any errors or ambiguities: 
  • London based cutting edge producer/ DJ BOK BOK 
     British Invasion - the selector launch party
    British Council, Radio 106 and Tabac present The Selector launch party featuring DJs Bok Bok, El-B and Rustie from the UK with locals Botanika, Hectik and Kalbata, hosted by Johnathan. Expect to hear some of the best sounds coming out of the UK.  We hope to see you there!
    Date: 25 February, doors open at 23:00
    Venue: Comfort 13, Tel Aviv
    Tickets: 60 NIS in advance, 70 NIS at the door (Mister Ticket, Abu Dubby)
    The Selector radio show is aired on Radio 106.4 Saturdays 19:00-21:00
  • New Writing for Theatre
    Award winning UK based director, writer and translator Jan-Willem van den Bosch will deliver a ground breaking workshop to develop the next generation of playwrights in Israel. The workshop is aimed at emerging theatre writers and is being run in partnership with the Institute of Israeli Drama.
    Dates: 27 February - 3 March
    Venue: Tel Aviv
  • The Shape of Things exhibition showcases the work of 13 international artists who live and work in London. The exhibition will expose the local crowd to the creativity and trends emerging from the London contemporary art scene. The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Ferrate Art Gallery, Tel Aviv and UK based curator Silia Ka Tung.
    Dates: The exhibition runs until 2 April
    Venue: Ferrate Gallery, 6 Habarbanel Street, Ramat Hachayal, Tel Aviv
  • She London UK-Israel Theatre Collaboration.
    This first collaboration between New End Theatre (UK) and Karov Theatre (Israel) invites artists and audiences to see Israel through new eyes via a connection to the female journey. She London transforms the New End's historic building into a series of unlikely performance spaces. This cross culture celebration of International Women's Day is supported by BI ARTS
    Dates: 27 & 28 February
    Venue: New End Theatre, London
    For tickets and more information
  • Connecting Classrooms
    Teachers from ten schools in Israel, participating in the British Council international Connecting Classrooms  project will travel to Bulgaria to take part in an International Coordinators Course. They will meet teachers from partner schools in Bulgaria, Italy, Russia and the UK and will plan future activities.
  • Community Cohesion in Schools professional visit.
    Fifteen teachers from the UK will visit Israel to explore community cohesion within the education system in Israel.  They will visit a number of schools that have programmes around building tolerance among different religious and ethnic groups

  • Strengthening Ties in Film
    Three celebrated film-makers from the UK will share their expertise with film students and professionals in Israel. Director of photography Peter Suschitzk and film editor Mick Audsley will deliver workshops to students at the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television. Assistant Director Jack Ravenscroft will give a professional workshop at the Israel Association of Cinema and Television Professionals. Visits supported by BI ARTS.

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