Sunday 29 May 2016

The only jew in the college

When I was at university, I probably wasn't the only jew there, but I didn't actually know any others. That's partly because one doesn't go around asking people, partly because I don't think there was a Jewish Society (if there was, I didn't notice it) and partly because, well, I didn't really care, because even then I was an atheist.

But people knew that I was jewish. Maybe it was my appearance, maybe it was my name - I never asked how they knew. Well, at least some people knew.

Actually, there was one HUGE advantage in being jewish at Cambridge in those days. There were a couple of dozen colleges; three women-only and the rest men-only. As a result, the ratio of boys to girls was about 20 to 1. You can see the problem. But I was jewish, and I was a member of Habonim, a jewish youth group, and there was a small but active Habonim in Cambridge. Five girls and two boys. And the other boy already had a girlfriend. Which meant that I was the only eligible NJB (nice jewish boy). You can see the benefit!

At first, I was occasionally "discovered" by evangelicals, who were under the impression that all they had to do was bring me the "good news" and I'd instantly accept their particular brand of Christianity. They were always quite surprised to discover that  the potential convert that they thought was jewish, was actually an atheist. And furthermore, I'd already heard their news, and wasn't really interested.

But eventually, one of my good friends and frequent game-playing chum, persuaded me to go to "chapel" (I think he called it). After all, he argued, if I've never experienced it, how do I know ... well, that's a pretty poor argument, I've never locked myself in a dark room for 12 hours, but I know without trying it that I'll be bored stiff and hate it. But I thought, well, it'll be a new experience. So I went along with him.

This turned out to be a smallish room with rows of chairs, and a guy standing up in front in fancy dress. And he said stuff which I don't remember, and we all sang a song, except me, because I didn't know the words, and then they came round with the biscuits, and my friend explained to me that this was the body of Christ, and I said, what, you mean it represents the body of Christ? And he said, no no, it transubstantiates into the actual body, and I said, what, human flesh, and he giggled and promised to explain later, and they were all eating their biscuits, so I decided to eat mine, because even though they thought they were committing cannibalism, I knew that I wasn't.

It was all as daft as I thought it would be, although I have to say I've been to jewish services and they're just as daft, except Passover, where you get a rattling good meal out of it (at least, you do if you go to the seder at my sister or my sister-in-law) together with several good arguments.

So then it was all over, and my friend pulled me over to introduce me to the vicar (it might have been a priest or a minister, I don't remember), "This is my friend Alan, he's a, um, er, he's, um um, he's of the hebrew persuasion."

So I said, nice and embarrassingly loudly "No I'm not, I'm a jew".

I never got invited back.

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