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Monica Porter

Book review – Unchosen

 Jewish Chronicle, 17 October 2014

Julie Burchill must be the only journalist in this country who is even more vehemently pro-Israel and anti the enemies of Israel than me. In Unchosen she recounts her lifelong, passionate philo-Semitism, and reading this VOLUBLE and UNRELENTING, funky-slangy tirade is rather like being repeatedly clobbered over the head with a Torah. (She uses capital letters for emphasis A LOT.) The book could have done with some judicious editing, and better proof-reading. But it is a crowd-funded publication (subsidised by its future readers) and I guess you don’t get editors with that.

Anyway, to hell with these minor transgressions. In a world stuffed with the craven, the hypocritical and the deluded, with people who tip-toe around so as not to offend vile Islamists and their left-wing useful idiots, she lets her enemies have it between the eyeballs and it’s a joy to behold. Burchill knows no fear. I would man the barricades with her any day (now that she has ended her mindless hero-worship of Stalin).

Her obsession with Jews and Zionism started at the age of 14, when the working-class girl growing up in Bristol read a magazine piece about the Holocaust. Soon – although she had never even met a Jew – she was desperately yearning to be a member of the Tribe. The Jews had become ‘a symbol of escape and outsider-ness’ to her, reflecting her own sense of estrangement from run-of-the-mill Bristol folk and desire to get away. Three years later, starting a new life in London as a writer on the New Musical Express, she pretended to be Jewish: ‘I had dyed black hair and a big nose, but with my Somerset twang I made a very strange Jew indeed’.

In the 1980s she dumped her first husband, novelist Tony Parsons, for the journalist Cosmo Landesman, a ‘Jewish Sex Dream come true’. But it was not to last. It didn’t help that her in-laws – the notoriously hippy-dippy Fran and Jay  – weren’t nearly Jewish enough for her liking.

As has already been recorded in this paper, Burchill abandoned her dream of converting to Judaism and fell out with the synagogue in Brighton she had been attending because its gay, female rabbi was too sweet on Islam. But she continues to learn Hebrew, practising it on her regular trips to Israel, the country she adores, even when the natives are rude. Of course, as a famously heavy drinker (so un-Jewish!) she admits that those visits tend to pass in an alcoholic blur. Sometimes, ‘when very drunk’, she will even wrap herself in an Israeli flag and cry like a baby. Everything about her is EXTREME.

Still, any Jew who feels anxious in these days of palpable anti-Semitism ought to read this book. It’s funny, and we all need a laugh. But more importantly, it’s a timely reminder that no, my friends, you do not walk alone.