Magazine article The Spectator

Hugo Rifkind: Ed Miliband Could Be the First Atheist Jewish Prime Minister from Primrose Hill

Magazine article The Spectator

Hugo Rifkind: Ed Miliband Could Be the First Atheist Jewish Prime Minister from Primrose Hill

Article excerpt

Credit: Hugo Rifkind

Last weekend, in a small New Jersey suburb, I found myself in a liquor store. Never been anywhere like it. The walls were lined with single malts of rare and impressive varieties, and the clientele both knew their whisky and spoke of little else. Yet they were all, also, to a man (and they were all men) ultra-orthodox Jews.

Properly ultra, as well. There's a website you might have come across called 'Amish or Hipster' and it shows pictures of young folks in beards and hats and braces, and asks you to vote on which particular cult you reckon you are looking at. This lot were like that. The beards were full and bushy, the shirts were all white and tieless and the top buttons were all done up. I remember once seeing a documentary about a very trendy counter-cultural magazine you also might know called Vice . As this lot stood around a barrel taking shots, it could have been one of their editorial meetings.

I bought myself a couple of bottles, anyway, and wandered away feeling quite charmed. At first, I amused myself by thinking that it was impossible to imagine the opposite; a bunch of men in kilts in an inexplicably Judaic store in Inverness, perhaps, nudging each other, and saying 'Och, aye, it's a fuhkin' barry Kiddush wine, this, Jim.' But then suddenly it struck me that they and I were not actually so very different.

I, too, am Jewish, as you probably know. Go back to the 1880s, and their ancestors and mine could have lived in neighbouring shtetls. We weren't Hassidim and I think they were, but that's by the by. Same sort of ethnic stock. So the sole thing that makes it more incongruous for them to be drinking Talisker than me is that for the past 12 decades I've been keeping my Yiddisher DNA somewhere else.

It is strangely lopsided, how we talk of immigration. We focus always on the effect that the immigrant has on the place, but rarely on that which the place has on the immigrant. Give him half a generation, or maybe even less, and he can't possibly 'go home', because he is no longer from where home used to be. He is instead a whole new thing, which could only be from where he now is.

So to Ed Miliband, and the question of whether he slipped up, somehow, when he last week spoke of his desire to be Britain's first Jewish prime minister. 'The clot!' said many. 'The ninny! He says the phrase "one nation" eight times an hour, and he's forgotten about Disraeli!' And indeed, maybe he had. Or maybe he was operating under the presumption that a Jew who identifies as a Christian loses the bulk of his 'Jew' tag, in a way that one who merely stops having anything to do with a synagogue does not, which seems pretty reasonable to me, although possibly not to you. …

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