It’s been a Jewish week for me. Friday before last, I was invited to Sabbath dinner by the local Chavad group.
We broke bread, shared some wine, tasted some arak. “It’s from Lebanon,” the Rabbi said, “and it’s kosher. “ Delicious, though I didn’t go back for seconds: Friday night and I had to walk back through the clubbers.
Earlier in the week had been the Charlie Hebdo killings and that event was close to all our minds, I’d say, that Friday night.
Between the main course and the pudding, Robert Gildea, professor of modern history at Worcester College, gave a brief and very clear talk on France and its history. It was the Third Republic, he said, that finally (or nearly) got it right as to the ideals of the revolution. 1880 – and the connection between the all-powerful Catholic Church and the Sate was broken. From then on, schools and the Town Hall would be secular. Thursday was to be set aside for those who wanted to practice the religion of their choice but they came to the State for their education and to the Town Hall to get married. If they wanted to have a church service they could do so but they would have to arrange that themselves.
It was Napolean who enfranchised the Jews who then embraced France and all things French. That, they felt, would be their salvation and France would be their home.
Later, much later, after Algeria got its freedom, a whole second-generation of young Algerians, living in France found themselves exiled to the banlieus, cut off from society. Falling foul of the law, they were sent to prison where they became radicalised, in Robert Gildea’s words. He went on to point out that the two assassin brothers in Paris were Algerian.
“Why do they always blame us”, a woman asked after the talk. “There are young deprived people in every society but they don’t attack Jews. Why is it always us?”
The following night, on BBC 2 I watched a film about the filming of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, in 1961. Worth watching: The Eichmann Show, Director Leo Hurwitz had been blacklisted by McCarthy for ten years. He and the producer, both American, both Jewish, were at odds. Hurwitz wanted all the focus on Eichmann, hoping he would cave in, that his emotions would show, that he was, underneath the cold exterior, a human being like the rests of us.The producer didn’t agree. He wanted the drama played out on TV, the shaming, the accusations, the terrible reality of the death camps. He wanted television to tell the story but had to compete with the running story of the Bay of Pigs. Would viewers switch channels?
They didn’t. The programme was watched worldwide and Eichmann was hanged the following year.