I woke up this morning with Big Friendly‘s cold which only adds to my totally altered state of reality. It is 1800 and I am in Stellenbosch, at a hotel, with more than just a few hundred Jewish people for a 48 hour conference, 100 presenters and 170 sessions. All these people (except for the people who work here, and you should see their faces!) are either Jewish or will be talking about something Jewish related or for Jews to hear. Mind-bending. It really is a huge, huge mix; religious, non-religious, right-wing, left-wing, spiritual, academic, philosophical, cultural, general and obscure.
I am presenting an improvisation workshop late tonight, and a talk tomorrow called The Reluctant Jew. I have also set myself the task of attending as much as I possibly can.
I didn’t do myself any favours by attending my first presentation; about the Turkish Flotilla that made that attempt to get supplies to Gaza. It was a presentation by a totally right-wing, Israeli military expert Jonathan Fine, who managed, in a carefully constructed preamble about fundamental religious terrorism, to persuade the already half-way there audience that the Israelis behaved beautifully and were threatened and did what anyone else would have done in that situation. It was beyond hideous and I was so enraged I couldn’t even speak. The hilarious part of this whole thing is that he didn’t know how to work his DVD and I was the only moegoe who got up to press play and to do sound levels! For the most blatant piece of pro-Israeli military propaganda ever made!
Next up was a quirky look at Jews in Venice during Shakespeare’s time and the justification for Antonio from The Merchant of Venice to be a Merano, a Jew who has converted to Christianity. It was presented by Stephen Finn. It was really quite absorbing, and properly interesting. I am so deeply connected to the play and I know all the textual references so it was really exciting to see them being re-interpreted. A lot of strange statements that Shylock and Antonio make can be so much better justified if this were indeed the case.
I am not used to this many Jewish people all at once, and I still don’t feel very comfortable. I hope I will find some like-minded thinkers here; but I won’t hold my breath; my nose is blocked and I might choke and swallow my own post-nasal drip!