No Jews at the Gramophone Awards?

This was my colleague Norman Lebrecht’s assertion at https://slippedisc.com/2022/09/no-jews-at-gramophone-awards/. The exact claim, ‘It has been pointed out to us that the fading [?] Gramophone magazine has, with incomparable sensitivity, scheduled its awards dinner for October 4, the evening of Yom Kippur. It is the holiest night of the Jewish year, a night when every affirming Jew in the world is immersed in fast and prayer. Well done, chaps.’

Firstly, there will be Jews at the Awards (I can think of at least two, maybe three). I won’t be, primarily for health reasons – though Yom Kippur does come into it. Regarding Norman’s ‘a night when every affirming Jew in the world is immersed in fast and prayer’, what exactly is an affirming Jew? Were a Jew to go abseiling on the 4th with a rucksack full of sandwiches he or she would still land as … a Jew. The point is to define the difference between Jewish ethnicity and Jewish religion. The former category can contain atheists, agnostics and converts to other faiths, people who are so to speak ‘non-Jewish Jews’. The latter covers belief plain and simple but even then, there’s a choice when it comes to ritual and forms of worship. 

Judaism is based on a bedrock of 613 laws or ‘mitzvot’ which Orthodox Jews observe on pain of likely punishment. This, in my view at least, is an aspect of religious superstition, which is especially prevalent among North London Orthodox congregations. What you’re less likely to hear at the Sermon on Hampstead Heath are the numerous extenuating circumstances for not fasting, as expressed in the first major work of rabbinic literature, The Mishnah.

Here are some examples, taken from Jacob Neusner’s translation (Yale University Press), p.278

8:5 A.  A pregnant woman who smelled food [and grew faint] – they feed her until her spirits are restored.

B. A sick person – they feed him on the instruction of experts

C. If there are no experts available, they feed him on his own instructions, until he says ‘enough’.

8:6 He who is seized by ravenous hunger – they feed him, even unclean things, until his eyes are enlightened.

The Mishnah is full of similar perspectives covering all aspects of the religion. Returning to Yom Kippur versus The Awards, I’d put the faux pas down to carelessness and nothing else, the wrong sort of diary. The last time this happened (2002 as I recall) the Russian-born Israeli violinist Maxim Vengerov was Artist of the Year and he was certainly present. So were other Jews. I wasn’t, having volunteered to stay away. The Day for me is above all a chance to reflect, to take stock emotionally and intellectually, to contemplate who I am and where I’ve come from – especially this year, considering that both my mother’s parents were Ukrainians who had escaped the pogroms. She was one of eleven siblings and while I stay clear of temple worshipping, that isn’t to say that some part of me hasn’t inherited a small aspect of her largely unacknowledged faith. My father loathed religion; for him, the High Holy Days were simply ‘days off’, a chance to wash the car or drive up to town. He wasn’t disrespectful but neither was he a hypocrite. In that respect I take after him, too.  I think also of my Uncle Donald [Zec] whose tomb stone we consecrated a week ago. During the last war he was in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, latterly with the Russians as heroic allies. Talk about dying at the right time (just a year ago, aged 102)! The War between Russia and the Ukraine hadn’t yet started, a War waged by the people he trusted on the community he grew from. How would he have felt? I dread to think. In the meantime, Shanah tovah to one and all.

9 thoughts on “No Jews at the Gramophone Awards?

  1. I can’t comment upon Jewish matters, but I read with interest what you say. However, I can comment upon Gramophone magazine. To say it is fading is an understatement. I have been reading this magazine for 50 years or so and am seriously considering cancelling my subscription. However, that’s not the point of your article but I felt I had to say it.

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    1. I’m so sorry to hear that Richard especially as I work so hard to bring interest to at least some of its pages (I know others do too). Do stay with it. Next year it celebrates its centenary. Best wishes. Rob.

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  2. Les Berger

    Shana Tova, Rob. An interesting reflection and one that resonates with me, a Jew married happily (since 31 July 1971) to a Catholic. I am happy to acknowledge my Jewish heritage while remaining non- religious in a narrow sense. My break with the religion upset my father but to his credit he respected my views. Our shared love of music united us.

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