Nicholas Lezard is a writer and critic who lives in Scotland. He wrote a weekly column for The Guardian’s book pages for twenty years, was the literary editor of the Modern Review, and was, for ten years, the Independent on Sunday’s radio critic; he currently writes the “Down and Out” column for the New Statesman. He is the author of The Nolympics: One Man’s Struggle Against Sporting Hysteria (2012), and a memoir, Bitter Experience Has Taught Me (2013). November 2018

NYR DAILY

On Being a Jew-ish Schoolboy

Secondary school pupils, Kettering, England, 1976

There was a sketch performed by the comedy troupe Beyond the Fringe many years ago, in which Jonathan Miller (still with us, thankfully) said that he wasn’t a Jew, but that he was “Jew-ish.” That got a laugh in the 1960s; a shocked laugh, perhaps, but that was what was aimed for. Whether it would get a laugh these days, I am not sure. Every single Jew I know, and I know plenty, observant or not, confesses nowadays to being suddenly very aware of their Jewishness, and alive to the potential reaction it can provoke. If someone like me, with only the haziest notion of what the Torah or the Talmud are, can be a target for anti-Semitic abuse, I wonder at how much hatred is out there, waiting to boil over again.