Thursday, July 29, 2010

Growing Up Jewish in South London: "Let in the Jews!"

Sacha Baron Cohen and his brothers attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School (nicknamed Habs), a prestigious private school on the outskirts of London. Habs schoolmate and close collaborator Dan Mazer has described the school as “a factory of comedy. . . .  It’s just cocky young Jews. And because we were too weak to fight each other, we compensated with verbal jousts.”

“I would say [Habs] was an exam factory and certainly it was quite cocky,” says one of the Cohen brothers. “There was a slightly rebellious [atmosphere]; it was a very regimented, high-pressure kind of place and some reacted against that—it made for comedy.”

In his novel New Boy, based on his experiences at the school in the 1980s, Sacha’s schoolmate William Sutcliffe writes that when the Christian trustees relocated the school to the prosperous greenbelt suburbs of northwest London, they were surprised to find themselves presiding over an “exam greenhouse for nouveau-riche, second-generation immigrants,” including Jews. As late as the 1950s, the novel recounts, the school had a Jewish quota, and Jewish students were excused from the religious half of the morning assembly: “[I]t is said that after the hymns and prayers, the headmaster would stand and intone the words ‘LET IN THE JEWS!’” whereupon the Jewish boys would file in for announcements. 

From the movie Chariots of Fire:


Gary Freedman said...


And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

The poem is by William Blake. It is based on Christian myth -- though I note that in the poem Blake asks four questions!

If you don't get it, you don't get it.

Gary Freedman said...

Governor Thornburgh is a good sport.