Monday, November 30, 2009

Roger Cohen on growing up Jewish in London

NYT columnist Roger Cohen - who has experienced lots of friction this year with the US Jewish community over his attitude to Israel and to Iran - writes this week about growing up Jewish in London.

[Nick Hornby's] “An Education” put me back in my London complete with Dad’s old Rover model. But it wasn’t just the cars. It was that faint prejudice floating around with its power to generate I’m-not-quite-one-of-them feelings.

In the late 1960’s, I went to Westminster, one of Britain’s top private schools, an inspiring place hard by Westminster Abbey, and was occasionally taunted as a “Yid” — not a bad way to forge a proud Jewish identity in a nonreligious Jew.

The teasing soon ended. But something else happened that was related to the institution rather than adolescent minds. I won a scholarship to Westminster and would have entered College, the scholars’ house, but was told that a Jew could not attend College nor hold a Queen’s Scholarship. I got an Honorary Scholarship instead.

On balance, even recognising that the UK has changed, he prefers America. Read the whole thing here.

As a side note, I have long wondered whether Cohen's British background doesn't go some way towards explaining his writing about the Middle East. Anglo-Jewry has long been far more left-wing on Israel than American Jewry. It seems to me that some of his attitudes to Israel would not be that unusual in some sections of our British community, but - until recently at least - were the exception amongst affiliated, involved American Jews. As a result, they apparently simply cannot understand where he's coming from and his writing seems to make them apoplectic with rage. Were he writing in a British paper, many segments of our community might not like what he was saying, but I don't think they would have a hard time understanding that a Jew might hold such opinions.

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