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25 Jews on what being Jewish means in the 21st Century

At one point in Mike Leigh’s 2005 play Two Thousand Years, a character asks his grandfather, “What does being a Jew mean to you?” The response is short and to the point: “It means wanting to spend a couple of hours with your family on a Saturday afternoon and walking into a fucking war zone.”

“Two Jews, three opinions” goes the adage and yet, in 2019, it feels as though Jewish people are being treated as a monolith with a shared opinion on everything. Anyone who has ever attended a Shabbat dinner will know how absurd such a notion truly is.

Israel, The Labour Party, the pronunciation of bagel – it’s all up for grabs. After the success of The Good Immigrant, a collection of essays exploring what it means to be black, Asian and minority ethnic in this country, The Jewish Question asks writers, academics and entertainers one simple question that no two Jews could or would ever answer the same way: what does being Jewish mean to you?

There are cultural Jews, Zionist Jews, queer Jews, orthodox Jews, good Jews and, according to at least one hit West End play, bad Jews. By asking contributors including Charlotte Mendelson, Jonathan Freedland, Devorah Baum, Matt Greene, Phoebe Roy, Emma Forrest, Zoe Margolis, Josh Howie, Roberta Klimt, Peter Mehlman, Patrick Marber, Benjamin Dreyer, Michael Rosen, Andy Nyman, Eva Wiseman, AD Miller, Sandra Newman, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Alex Edelman, Jon Lansman, Dr. Aviah Sarah Day, Lee Kern and Leslie Brent for an essay on what being Jewish means to them, this book should make the diversity of modern Jewry clear for all to see.

At a time when anti-Semitism is back in the news and the grim spectre of Holocaust denial is finding its way back onto the front pages, this collection should educate, entertain and provoke during a period when this country’s Jews are in the familiar position of feeling like neither insiders nor outsiders but observers and chroniclers hiding in plain sight.

Darren's writing has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian, The Telegraph and Shortlist. He co-wrote The Ghost Writer, a Channel 4 sitcom pilot starring Jessica Hynes and Kevin Eldon as well as Someone Else, a romantic comedy in development with Big Talk. He is currently working on a spoof autobiography of Pat Sharp. Darren was a regular guest on the BBC’s Unpopped podcast and wrote and produced 84303, a short documentary about Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper directed by Vaughn Stein (Terminal) that had its premiere at the Everyman in Hampstead. It aired on The History Channel on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2018 and was pick of the day in The Guardian and The Daily Mail.

I have always considered myself Jewish with an emphasis on the ish. As recently as ten years ago, the idea of my putting this book together would have been unthinkable. I go to synagogue a couple of times a year, avoid pork largely on superstitious grounds and am not sufficiently convinced of God’s existence to opt for a dash in place of the O. Kate, my lapsed Catholic wife, is adamant that we have a Christmas tree in the house every December for our son and this makes me uncomfortable but I insisted we have his foreskin removed so that probably makes us even.

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