Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Noelle, Noelle

Posted on: August 14, 2020

There are some stories one should tell only oneself, our stories being tangled with other lives and threaded into narratives of long duration. The strings of solar lights in my tiny garden get tangled amongst the burgeoning jasmine and Virginia creeper and caught on the thorns of two or three rose bushes. I shall need gardening gloves when the time comes to untangle them.

I was going to write about a girl who was at school with me and call her Noelle, which is not her name. We were in the same year, the equivalent of today’s Year Seven or Eight, so about twelve years of age. As I walked to school in my hated brown blazer and beret, there was she, stepping out of her house in her own brown blazer and beret. I would walk with her. She was a quiet, smiling little girl. I was prolix and opinionated and she too polite to let me know.

Fifty years later, we were still in touch. We were not close friends but we had mutuals, friends who were proactive at making contact, sharing news and arranging meetings. So a little group of middle aged to elderly women continued to meet up three or four times a year. I was at her father’s funeral where a woman vicar officiated and ‘Going Home’ from Dvorak’s New World was on the hymn sheet. She was at my father’s funeral where El Malei Rachamim was sung at the graveside and, twenty years before that, she was at my husband’s funeral too.

In the group of half a dozen friends, known to each other since school days, she was the only one who wasn’t Jewish. As the decades had passed, different tragedies had struck all our lives, the way tragedies do, given time. Some but not all had married and had children; some but not all were divorced; some were impoverished, others comfortable.

After fifty years, I separated myself from the group but that story really is wound around the thorns of the rose bush and the wooden trellis where the jasmine and Virginia creeper thrive. It was not about politics, although I believe some may have thought so.

I am aware of Noelle’s Facebook account with its profile photo of Corbyn  and a header picture of a heart with NHS inside it and was not surprised  to come across her name on one of the Corbynist forums. The surprise was that she took up a position in line with Chris Williamson supporters, wanting all those expelled to be readmitted and all those who had accused Corbyn of antisemitism to be expelled. She expressed a wish for apologies from Margaret Hodge, Maureen Lipman and everyone else who had ‘smeared’ the former leader. More alarmingly, she expressed the view that Keir Starmer’s actions were determined by the demands of his ‘moneylenders’.

It has never escaped my notice that vehement elderly white women comprise a significant proportion of activists on the forums and Noelle’s comments have the same timbre as many others. I had assumed that these resident experts on ‘antisemitsm smears’ had little knowledge of Jews or Judaism. But this is not the case with Noelle, who has behind her half a century of attending chuppas and lavoyahs, shivas and bnei mitzvah.

I conclude that she must have meant no harm in that comment about Starmer’s moneylenders or in wanting apologies from those who ‘smeared’ Jeremy.

JVL, despite a plethora of antisemitic hangers on, has at its core a group of people who really are Jewish, but so fiercely critical of Zionism that they make common cause with other critics, given to intemperate tropes and conspiratorial theorizing. Their alarm bells, set off, I imagine, by ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ work differently to mine which ring out on ‘lobby,’ ‘paymasters,’ ‘chosen people,’ ‘Khazars’ – and even on ‘moneylenders’. If JVL can have such high tolerance for discourse intolerable to me and vice versa, why shouldn’t a non-Jewish person like Noelle feel free to share their perspective, even if she has been steeped in Jewish culture and friendships since 1962?

Was Noelle radicalized against what she would surely call Zionism, separating Zionism, the ‘lobby’, the ‘paymasters’ and the ‘moneylenders’ from the Jewish people with whom she is or was accustomed to hang out?

Are the elderly more easily radicalized than the young?

Is ‘radicalized’ the wrong word entirely?

Are her motives perhaps as tangled as the narrative which separated my own story from hers, irrevocably and immutably, a short time after our sixtieth birthdays?

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  • Tell Facebook | Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus: […] There are two or three who argue back. By chance, they happen to be Jewish and they call out the more intemperate examples of antisemitism,
  • L.Sordo: They always strike me as being immature, semi-literate and gullible.I assume they're late teens or under 30 left school at 16 as did I. I read every
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thanks, L Sordo. One word I question here - 'kids'. Many of these participants are mature, one might say senior individuals. Observing over a period o
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