A very interesting set of notes/memoirs/thoughts from a left leaning British Jew. This book can evoke contrasting responses from people depending on where they lay on the politico-social-populist divides.
Many chapters are informative (God, family, comedy, security), others were confirmatory for me (Israel, race). The two that stood out were the ones on the internet and Poland.
The former was a bit all over the place—it has several important messages but could’ve been massively improved by skipping some bits (this chapter will also trigger a lot of people on all sides of the political landscape. The latter chapter was tremendously moving, even for anyone who thinks they know all about the Holocaust.

Kindle highlights


Location 92

as our politics devolved into the language of difference and refugees became migrants became numbers became waves.


Location 119

It’s always strange visiting friends’ houses when you’re a kid. The food is different, the temperature is different, there’s a different shoe policy, people talk to each other differently.


Location 173

I couldn’t eat chocolate for three hours after meals because it was against the rules of kashrut – the law that decides which foods are kosher and which foods aren’t. And what did that have to do with believing in God? You didn’t have to believe in Him to respect his decrees. You didn’t even have to mention His name.


Location 189

‘God’s not important. What’s important is community. Just because you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean you don’t have to go to shul.’


Location 422

he gave up the Hebrew since it faced towards the past rather than the future.


Location 426

He’d been born after the First World War had ended, but with the grim inevitability of a comic book franchise, the next instalment was on the way and promised a higher budget and greater destruction.


Location 483

I’m sure there’s a statute of limitations on the misdemeanours I’m about to describe – but for fear of who might be listening. Minorities always need to be aware of those who extrapolate from an individual’s actions in order to reinforce their negative feelings towards a group. This means that all minorities must be mindful of the stories we tell, and of their potential audience, which is something non-minorities, who operate inside far wider spectrums of expected behaviour, need never consider.


Location 562

these days my grandparents keep kosher not for their parents or ancestors who died long ago but for my mum and my brother. As my grandma puts it, ‘The family doesn’t serve the religion, the religion serves the family.’


Location 569

Jewishness is matrilineal so if your mum’s Jewish, so are you]


Location 656

By the time we worked there he was well past retirement age, late seventies, early eighties, but couldn’t conceive of stopping and no one dared suggest it. Working got him out of the house and into the world.


Location 722

There’s a theory of comedy that dates back to the playground that essentially has it as a defensive manoeuvre. An evolutionary tactic to deflect the bully’s attention. It makes sense to think of Jewish humour in this way, only in our case the playground is history


Location 724

It’s not that all Jews are funny or that only Jews are funny, it’s that there are modes of being funny that are recognisably Jewish.


Location 752

The ability to maintain a humorous outlook, Frankl writes, ‘is a trick learned while mastering the art of living’.


Location 763

The film was Anything Else,


Location 827

In Nanette, her miraculous 2017 stand-up special, the comedian Hannah Gadsby, who grew up gay in rural Tasmania, critiques the idea that self-deprecation is a marker of reclamation and self-empowerment. Rather, as she puts it, it’s a mode the marginalised can speak in that allows them access to the world of their oppressors; the oppressed talks themself down as an act of supplication; ‘to seek permission to speak’.


Location 831

Gadsby goes on to explain, with brutalising candour, the effect of growing up in a homophobic environment, one in which 70 per cent of the adults responsible for her care believed that homosexuals were a deviant subspecies: by the time she identified as gay, it was ‘too late’; she was ‘already homophobic’.


Location 837

Jokes that play with harmful stereotypes and exaggerate negative traits play a dangerous game not because they can’t be funny – the history of Jewish comedy shows us that they frequently are – but because you never know who could be listening and which part they might be laughing at.


Location 853

On the one side is a young nebbish, a pick-and-mix of inherited traumas and traits, who cowers from conflict and lives in prosperity, and on the other is an old man who’s seen too much and understands that sometimes you don’t need a quip or a self-directed comeback, you need a tyre iron.


Location 863

There’s an argument to be made, in fact, that anti-Semitism operates more like homophobia than traditional racism. In both cases the ‘otherness’ often isn’t visual, meaning both groups usually have the choice of if and when to disclose it, which means both are often subject to discriminatory language shared in false confidence.


Location 866

the great power Jews and gay people share, the reason we’re feared as much as we’re hated, is that we have the potential to walk amongst you.


Location 951

I sometimes wonder now if this newfound interest in ethnic cleansing and racial atrocity was a way of confronting something a little closer to home – the way we watch an eclipse through its reflection on a lake


Location 1032

For a certain generation, anti-Semitism was central to their conception of Jewish identity which, like mine, had been forged in childhood. My grandfather needed it, needed to believe in it as a way of understanding his Jewishness. And he needed me to believe in it as a means to relate to my experience.


Location 1035

And perhaps in a broader sense Jewishness needed it too. Perhaps we needed moats round our cultural centres and police outside our shuls as a way to convince ourselves that the threat was ongoing. Because we needed an excuse for failing to integrate fully into a society that didn’t see us as different. Because if we didn’t believe in God we needed something to organise around. Maybe we enjoyed being ghettoised so much that we’d done it to ourselves.


Location 1150

I abhorred – still abhor – the view that presents intermarriage as an existential threat to Jews, that necessarily views non-Jews with an element of suspicion, and worries about dilution as if our blood is syrup; but at the same time I’m suspicious of the opposite view that sees assimilation teleologically, as a desirable endpoint, some modern-day promised land that means an end to all suffering through invisibility.


Location 1206

I remember visiting the Western Wall, the holiest religious site for Jews around the world, and feeling nothing besides the paralysing requirement to Feel Something, like a thousand New Year’s Eves rolled into one.


Location 1236

No one in my family ever talked about Israel so I didn’t know there was anything to talk about. Certainly not that it was something you could be pro or against. It just was.


Location 1278

I asked my dad the same question. He jutted his bottom lip like a cash register then sighed, sadly too. ‘The thing about being Jewish is you always need to be vigilant. If you think you’re safe, you’re probably being complacent. That’s why we need a Jewish state, so there’s somewhere we can go if the shit ever hits the fan again.’


Location 1352

If only from a tactical standpoint, such reactions radicalised more moderates than they neutralised radicals, and perpetuated the cycle of violence that Hamas (and Hezbollah) relied on to maintain viability.


Location 1377

the one view I hold most assiduously is that Jews have no obligation to define themselves in relation to a foreign government’s policy, and certainly not in a public forum to assuage strangers’ discomfort.


Location 1467

33 By this rationale I even understand why people march more against Israel than other countries with equally bad or much worse human rights records, e.g. China or Saudi Arabia. Because it feels like there’s a chance, albeit slim, that someone might listen.


Location 1472

Which is not the same as condoning illegal settlements or supporting the actions of a far-right, ethno-nationalist government; I abhor our current government with every fibre in my being but at no point in the past nine years have I questioned Britain’s right to exist.


Location 1596

In her essential 2017 book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, the journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge makes the case that race and class should be considered in tandem, as dual forces, distinct but interrelated, that can jointly determine the opportunities a person is afforded.


Location 1607

Jews are well represented in the commercial art world, for example, because for much of the twentieth century our bank accounts were subject to seizure.


Location 1608

Similarly Jewish people have historically numbered highly in business and finance because we were excluded from professional guilds and forbidden from owning land, which forced us into work as merchants and bookkeepers.


Location 1652

Unlike traditional racism, which tends to be binary, relying on a few baseless stereotypes, anti-Jewish racism is quantum: Jews are at once weak beyond pity and powerful beyond belief.


Location 1665

also denies us the protection of a united left, who are uncomfortable with the notion of white victimhood – and are equally susceptible to talk of global elites and supranational motives.


Location 1731

It’s no coincidence that when black celebrities achieve a certain level of fame and wealth they’re often said to have ‘transcended race’.


Location 1736

If you think about it, it makes sense that non-religious Jews are more likely to view their Jewishness as an ethnicity since, if it’s not a religion, what is it?


Location 1754

This was years before Twitter and Facebook would further flatten the field with publishing templates that lent everyone, from Pulitzer prize-winners to bedroom contrarians, the same level of legitimacy.


Location 1784

The narrator of Ostrich, which had been published the year before, was a twelve-year-old boy with a tumour in his temporal lobe, and to capture his thoughts, which were non-chronological and full of digressions and sub-thoughts, a series of trapdoors for the reader to fall through, I’d taken to ordering them inside compound brackets, which often collapsed at the ends of sentences so that triple closing brackets were not uncommon. This technical innovation, I fondly imagined, was my small contribution


Location 1822

Before the publication of my first book, my publishers had given me a list of Twitter handles and told me to befriend as many as I could. I was given graphics that told me the best times to post and be online, and it was implied, quite strongly, that my professional success depended, in part, on maintaining an online presence. On being easy to find.


Location 1869

This is the attention economy and it has had several key consequences. Chief among them, though, is the erosion of objective truth. As news becomes entertainment, and algorithms become increasingly adept at delivering us the content we find most entertaining, the walls around each of us have grown taller.


Location 1880

But benign or otherwise, all conspiracy theories have something significant in common: they are all inherently undisprovable. To those distrustful of deep states and professional journalists, any refutation can be dismissed as a diversion or as part of a cover-up.


Location 2147

to be Jewish is to live with the knowledge that no matter who you are or what you do there are people who will hate you.


Location 2158

Silos, as Michiko Kakutani calls them in her excellent The Death of Truth. Bubbles at least are transparent.


Location 2210

There’s a great joke about a Holocaust survivor who gets to heaven and tells God a Holocaust joke. ‘That’s not funny,’ God chastises him, to which the survivor shrugs. ‘Yeah, I guess you had to be there.’ The implication being, He wasn’t. After


Location 2288

within several years there’ll be no survivors left; it may not be crueller but time is certainly more thorough than any murderous regime.


Location 2333

That the Nazis never faced justice for what they did to the Jews periodically fills me with both rage and despair,


Location 2378

that day I understood that a religion was not a faith, that it need not point upwards. It could just as easily point backwards. Or sideways. It didn’t have to mean something to mean something. It wasn’t a tower, it was a bridge.


Location 2470

past a point it’s just too much; the body retreats into safe mode. Our capacity for grief is not infinite and there’s only so many piles of shoes, suitcases with names on them (the hope) and rugs woven from human hair you can see before you start to feel numb.


Location 2565

As in chess so in life: always do what your opponent least wants.


Location 2568

As a young woman from India explained to me, when she first heard of Holocaust denial, despite understanding the agenda it came with, a part of her wanted to believe it; it seemed preferable to believing that the Holocaust was possible.


Location 2586

a man who, in response to the Macpherson Report following the death of Stephen Lawrence, called discrimination on racial grounds as ‘natural as sewage’.


Location 2596

was a pledge to give police new powers to arrest and seize the property of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities whose encampments are deemed unauthorised. State seizure of a community’s possessions and the threat of incarceration is past the point of a slippery slope. Jews understand as well as anyone that an attack on one minority is an attack on us all.


Location 2625

In an age of weaponised identity, where we’re far more interested in our differences than in what unites us and where our politics sets us against each other in ever-smaller subgroups, we’d do well to remember that most things are fluid, that there’s an ish in everything.


Location 2628

We need to find a way to unite around our common humanity without erasing or downplaying the particularities of any group’s experience.


Location 2629

If we’re to confront the challenges that face us as a species and triumph over those who seek to divide and deceive us, we need to realise we’re all in this together. The question of Jewishness is a good place to start. We’re not all Jews but we’re all Jew-ish.