The day started badly with a number of minor irritants, the worse of which was somehow tearing off one of the fringes on my tallit (prayer shawl) – each corner is supposed to have four strings looped and knotted five times leaving eight strings hanging at the end, and I think I must have stood on one that was trailing and moved and — snap!

Work was OK, but was cut short today as J needed to go to a funeral (a distant relative). I think the work for me to do comes in to the office periodically through the day, so he can’t just give me a list of stuff to do in the morning, he has to keep giving things to me during the day as they appear or as he works on them, so when he leaves, I leave.

I got home early because of this, but spent a lot of time trying to tie the strings from an old pair of tzitzit (small prayer shawl undershirt) onto the tallit. I just got in a mess. A rabbi showed me how to tie tzitzit once and it seemed easy enough under his supervision, but every time I try to do it, I just get in a mess. It’s possible the problem is that I try to tie strings that have been used before and are all twisted and kinked. I think it’s going to be easier just to find a Judaica shop that will repair it, whatever the cost. I think I like the idea of being someone who can tie tzitzit more than the reality. Like, “Look, I’m frum! I can’t understand Talmud, I’m too socially anxious to lead services any more, I never kept up my leining, but I can tie tzitzit!”

Between the tzitzit and spending a lot of time today brooding about antisemitism and what (little) I can do about it (see below) I feel I wasted the day; it’s another day when I haven’t really sat down to do any work on my novel(s). Possibly I should have done that instead of going for a walk this evening; I just wanted to get out while the weather was good and exercise.


I’m still thinking a lot about Israel and the recent explosion of antisemitism, which is continuing even though the latest Gaza conflict is over. So many Jewish newspaper articles and blogs say that Jews must all speak up to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion. I feel like a coward, but I know if I write, I will get into arguments, and I don’t feel strong enough to cope with that. I’ve done it before and I’ve been hurt without changing anyone’s mind significantly (although I can’t deny that I had some effect). I’m told I’m a good writer, but I’ve never felt myself to be a good polemicist, and polemic is what is apparently wanted. Polemic makes me sick, and if I see anything too strident, I take the opposite position, even if it’s not something I would normally agree with. Even pro-Israel polemic makes me uncomfortable. I think Israel has a right to defend itself, but it isn’t beyond reproach. But there is no room for nuance any more.

Part of me wants to be a fearless truth-teller like George Orwell (one of my literary heroes, despite our political differences), but I also want to be liked, or at least not to be called a Nazi, and these things do not go together. I get upset about things and want to shout out, but then I worry about the consequences and stay quiet. It’s not a good combination. Orwell said that writers should be politically engaged, but shouldn’t tread the party line (any party line), but then Orwell never got involved in a flame war on Twitter.

Most of the Jewish blogs I read have not said much about this situation, and I wonder if this is wise or not. I feel that the number of Jews in the world is so small, and the negative stereotypes so embedded after two thousand years or more, that it is impossible to be heard. Some antisemitic pop stars and “influencers” apparently have more followers on Twitter or Instagram than the total number of Jews in the whole world, several times over, so it is hard to see how a few Jews can reach so many people. This is defeatist of me. If Judaism is about anything, it is about the ability of a small number of people to change the world. But just posting the I-word makes me anxious that I’m going to get abusive comments. Writers like Moshe Koppel and Ze’ev Maghen say that the correct response to antisemitism is to be a more engaged Jew, which is true, but hard to do when people are calling you a Nazi.

It would be nice to claim that my Jewish life is all quirky rituals like tying knots in tzitzit string, happy days like Shabbat and Yom Tov, and the search for meaning in prayer and Torah study, but it is also worry about my family and friends (literal and metaphorical) in Israel, it’s stuff getting shouted at me in the street, people throwing pennies at me, it’s wondering whether I should take my kippah off in public (as my uncle suggested yesterday). It’s worrying whether one day I’ll be one of those “Religious [read: Visible*] Jew Stabbed in the Street” news stories that never seem to trouble the non-Jewish press too much. It’s wondering whether I’m more likely to be attacked by skinheads or Guardian readers (spoiler warning: I think there are more Guardian readers than skinheads in the UK). It’s wondering where the next Holocaust will be: Israel, Europe or the US, or all at once.

*An article in one Jewish paper (before the latest violence) wondered how much the rate of antisemitic hate crime would rise if all Jews dressed like Orthodox Jews — in other words, if more secular Jews were visibly identifiable as Jews to non-Jews.

18 thoughts on “Knots

  1. Stereotypes are most easily applied when there is a strong sense of groupness, homogeneity, and stability over time. Coincidentally, that comes from a paper with a lead author by the name if Ben-Zeev, which sounds rather Jewish. Presumably, all Jews dressing like Orthodox would significantly boost groupness and homogeneity.

    The most nuanced viewpoint I heard on the Israel situation was from comedian Trevor Noah. He said essentially that both sides have all kinds of things to retaliate for, but given the massive imbalance in both military power and body bag count, we need to ask whether Israel’s response was proportionate in its extent. Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t really want to get into this, but I have to say that proportionality is a much misunderstood concept in war. It doesn’t mean that both sides should have roughly the same number of fatalities (even if both sides were releasing equally accurate and independently verifiable statistics). Colonel Richard Kemp, formerly of the British army, who is not Jewish, has written extensively about proportionality in Israel’s Gaza operations and finds them not just proportional, but a lot better at avoiding civilian casualties than NATO in Afghanistan (where he served as commander of UK forces) and the US and UK in Iraq. There’s a lot of his writing and interviews online if you want to look for it.

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      1. With the Iron Dome severely constraining Hamas’s ability to inflict damage, and Israel’s capacity to reduce the whole Gaza Strip to smithereens if it were so inclined, I think there’s a valid argument that Israel’s response didn’t have to be as strong as it was. That doesn’t mean it’s the right argument or that everyone has to agree with it, but I think there is space in the mix to condemn the extent of Israel’s response without questioning their right to defend themselves.

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        1. Up to a point (although I wonder what an “acceptable” number of Hamas rockets hitting Israel would be, particularly given that they can increasingly overwhelm Iron Dome and that they cause significant damage and trauma even when they don’t kill), but in practice I haven’t really heard anyone condemning the scale of Israel’s response without making it sound like any Israeli defence is inherently wrong.

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  2. I actually had a short-lived political blog at one point. I did it because I thought I would enjoy it and also because I felt like I should be using my voice for change. In the end, I discovered that political blogging was exhausting and that I was bad at it, and this was well over ten years ago when the internet was a nicer place.
    I definitely understand the competing feelings of wanting to speak out, fear, guilt for not speaking out, hopelessness, etc. I’m feeling a lot of this myself.

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  3. It is definitely a nuanced situation but it seems that gray area doesn’t exist for many people these days. It’s discouraging and terrifying. I rarely post about politics although I did during the election time. I couldn’t restrain myself from saying what I thought and felt. I think politics and how it relates to you and your ideas and emotions regarding events and attitudes would be very interesting. A straight political blog would be a hard pass for me though.

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    1. I would never write a purely political blog. I just don’t have the interest or stamina. I have been thinking a bit lately about how politics relates to my emotions, certainly in regard to antisemitism.


  4. Yes, I fear saying anything would do more harm than good. I mostly side with Israel, but I don’t agree with everything they do, especially Bibi lately. But I don’t want to get into a “thing” where someone is trying to say the sides are somehow equivalent when Iran is funding Hamas to kill Jews and Israel CALLS AHEAD to warn Gazans to leave buildings so they don’t get hurt in a bombing. How the hell is that equivalent??? OK, getting enraged again. Shalom

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  5. I will get into arguments, and I don’t feel strong enough to cope with that. I’ve done it before and I’ve been hurt without changing anyone’s mind significantly

    I deeply relate to this.


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