Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom 8: Vayakhel

vayakhel2(Exodus 35:1 – 38:20)

First of all, let me make one thing clear: I am not racist. Some readers, no doubt friends of a particular “person” who’s my wife’s lover and a builder who’s a woman, felt my implying in my last column that the surname Mebolowayo-Lowenstein was a ridiculous name was outrageously racist. Mebolowayo is, of course, a perfectly acceptable surname (on its own) even if it is actually spelt Mplulmweno which looks as if someone’s spilt the Scrabble on the floor. The last thing I want is to cause offence and I want to reassure everyone, especially the editor of the JC and Jeremy, the producer of my forthcoming “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4, that I’m definitely not racist. I’m sure they think Lowenstein is a funny sounding name in Um-bongo-land or wherever.

This racist slur has been hanging over me like a black cloud (or a white one, it really doesn’t matter so don’t write in) ever since Purim a couple of weeks ago. To dress up as a black rasta suicide bomber may be slightly confused, but it’s not racist. Nor is there anything racist in reading the megillah in a funny Jamaican accent which admittedly became Pakistani after a couple of verses, punctuated by the occasional “Hallo dere!” with one’s hands by one’s head, wriggling one’s fingers in an amusing Deep South slavery way. Al Jolson used to do it, the Black and White Minstrels used to do it and no-one would ever call them racist. If you ask me, it’s just another example of PC gone meshugge.

And whilst we’re at it, it’s a mitzvah on Purim to get so drunk you can’t distinguish between Haman’s name and Mordecai’s. So why should it be such a big deal to be so drunk you try and answer a call of nature into the petrol tank of the synagogue secretary’s car? Which is no mean feat I can tell you, especially when standing on the bonnet.

Maybe I did get a bit carried away after the megillah, getting some of the congregation to march like a group of angry villagers down the street to Rabbi F’s shul armed with sticks and  garden forks snatched from the caretaker’s shed and some improvised torches made from League of Jewish Women dishcloths soaked in lighter fluid and wrapped around some broomstick handles. But you should have seen the happy, little faces of the kids from the cheder when we burnt that effigy of Rabbi F in front of his sad apology for a shul. Their sweet little smiles and cheers when we spotted the faces of Rabbi F and his congregation of about three people peering down terrified from the upstairs window. Even Mad Stephen, the only yiddisher boy in the country with an Asbo (or, as his mother calls it, seeing as he’s Jewish, an Asb-oy), even he was joined in for the first time since he set fire to my talis on Yom Kippur.

Surely that’s what Purim’s all about: the smiling faces of the kids as they burn effigies of bad people like Haman and Rabbi F. Not according to the honorary officers who are holding a meeting to decide my future. What do they care about my divorce, my homelessness or the fact that I was found the following morning lying under a park bench by my son who’s meant to be studying at Oxford but who came down without telling me to celebrate his new “stepsister” Apache’s third birthday (who, by the way, seems a miserable creature and totally failed to see the funny side when I was sick in her buggy).

As the parsha says, “Whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it”. Like Moses, the honorary officers must look into my heart where they’ll see Radio 4 and a potentially massive media career that will bring them enormous yikhes, respect and maybe even a documentary crew or two. And that’s got to be more important than libel cases, restraining orders, cars that will never run again and a divorce from wife who’s run off with a woman who thinks Mbooboombooboo-Lowenstein is an acceptable name (I’m not racist).

This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle.

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