Chaim Yitzchak


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On the Other Hand

Chaim Bermant

Labour's party at the dome sweet dome (December 1997)

I have no immediate plans to celebrate the second millennium, or even the third, and I find it difficult to understand the whole fuss about anniversaries.

In fact, I suspect that the idea of the anniversary was invented by the press as an inexpensive way of filling newspaper columns, especially at the turn of the year when there is not much hard news, or even soft news.

In der heim, we celebrated circumcisions, barmitzvahs, engagements, weddings, but never ordinary birthdays, silver weddings, or anything like that.

There were certainly no such things as golden or diamond weddings, because nobody lived long enough to celebrate them. Or, if they did, they were not in a fit state to celebrate them.

The only anniversaries which we did commemorate with any regularity - as we still do - were not birthdays but death-days, yahrzeits, and insofar as I contemplate the passage of time at all, I do so with regret rather than jubilation. I sometimes feel like lighting candles for all the follies committed and opportunities missed.

I am aware that the words "Jubilation" and "Jubillee" come from the Hebrew yovel but the jubilee, as described in Scripture, had nothing to do with jubilation or jollification. If anything, it was a solemn occasion:

‘And ye shall hallow the 50th year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession ’

In other words, it was designed for the restoration of forfeited property and the redistribution of wealth, something favoured by the old Labour Party, but not the new one. It is new Labour, of course, which is arranging the celebrations, and which has appointed Peter Mandelson as ‘Mr 2000,’ the planner and overseer of the entire event.

It could be argued that, given what the world has been through in the last 2,000 years - and especially the past 100 - it is a miracle that it has survived this long. Thus, the celebrations would be merely a form of thanksgiving, a shehecheyanu, so to speak.

Yet, if the millennium, as a millennium, marks anything at all, it marks the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus.

The date is of deep mystical significance to devout Christians who associate the millennium with the second coming and the end of days, much as devout Jews speculate on the coming of the Messiah. But, to the rest of us, it is but a nicely rounded number.

We, as Jews, date our era back to the beginning of creation (or thereabouts) so that, according to our calculations, we are living in 5758, while the Muslim era begins with Mohammed’s flight from Mecca in 622 so that they are approaching the year 1376.

I suppose if we had to start from scratch, a royal commission, mindful of the fact that we live in a multi- cultural, multi-racial society, might be tempted to add up the dates, divide them by three, and arrive at the year 3044.

There is, however, no need for that - thank God - because the Christian era has, by universal consent, been accepted as the common one.

But it nevertheless does remain the Christian era and, if there are to be any millennial celebrations at all, they should obviously be of a predominantly Christian character.

I cannot speak for Muslims, but I would say that any Jew anxious to have a millennial bash should wait until the year 6,000. Dammit all, what’s the hurry?

All of which makes me wonder if Mr Mandelson is the ideal man for the job.

He is a brilliant political organiser and has been widely credited with the scale of Labour’s victory in the last election. He is also well connected, for his mother was a daughter of Herbert Morrison, Home Secretary both under Churchill and Attlee and who, in his day, was also a brilliant organiser.

Mandelson is, however, half-Jewish, and his late father, Tony - a good friend of mine who often entertained me to drinks in the Cavalry Club - was for many years advertising director of the JC.

It is, of course, possible that Peter Mandelson was put in charge of the millennial celebrations in a spirit of ecumenism, but I suspect it had more to do with the fact that his grandfather oversaw the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Which recollection may suggest that, while Labour may not believe in a hereditary House of Lords, it seems to favour the idea of a hereditary Master of the Revels.

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