By Ivor BADDIEL, [the one in the bikini]
So, last weekend I found myself at Wembley Stadium along with a large number of other Jewish people. Now for those who might not know, we weren’t all there because Wingate and Finchley Football Club had somehow made it to the FA Cup Final – that would be a miracle right up there with parting the Red Sea.
No, we were there for the Jewish Living Expo, an event organised by this very newspaper, who had kindly invited me along to a VIP reception in a box overlooking the hallowed turf of said stadium. Now there’s nothing I like more than a VIP reception – there’s usually some decent grub, plenty to drink and, well, VIPs, who are always good for a laugh, as are IPs and Ps as well of course.
However, a week or so before the event I was asked to be on the panel of a Jewish Question Time, which started a little earlier than the reception. Unperturbed, I happily agreed. It would only make me half-an-hour late for the reception, and surely even Jews wouldn’t be able to eat their way through everything in that time.
The Question Time thing took place in a large room in the heart of the stadium. And with 250-plus chairs laid out, the organisers were clearly expecting a big crowd. Come the start time however, only about eight chairs had been filled, and one of those was by a friend I’d brought along, while the pregnant wife of one of the other panellists filled another. (It’s probably best he remains nameless).
Sensibly, it was decided to delay the start by 15 minutes to allow for the expected surge of eager questioners. And yes, more people did turn up, but it was less a surge, and more a trickle. Nonetheless, the show must go on, and go on it did. We covered the peace process in Israel, assimilation, the Y-word (who’d have thought), the Limmud-Chief Rabbi thing and other topics.
And, truth be told, it was great. The people who did turn up enjoyed it and, as is the way with Jews, while the five of us on the panel might not have had six opinions, between us, we had enough to fuel a good debate.
So, having stimulated my mind, I was all set to stimulate my stomach at the VIP (that’s VIP) reception. It was up a level in one of those corporate boxes generally frequented by people more interested in doing business than watching football. And as soon as I entered, I realised something was missing… the food.
Oh, and the drink and the VIPs.
I’d missed it, and had to make do with a cold hot dog (or just a cold dog). It was a disappointment only partially made up by the spectacular view of the Wembley pitch, which I have actually played on, and have the photos to prove it, but that’s another story.
With the taste of disappointment, and rubbery, chewy, not hot dog, still in my mouth, I decided to head down to the main hubbub of the expo to check out the action and pick up some free food. And it was indeed a hubbub in there, a bit like the Arab market in Jerusalem only more Jewish. There were stands aplenty promoting aliyah – I very much enjoyed the Keep Calm and Make Aliyah stickers I saw on one stand – holidays to Israel and other destinations, charities and almost anything Jewish related you could think of, though I didn’t see a Do It Yourself Bris stand.
There was also entertainment and I was fortunate enough to catch some stand up comedy from Mark Maier, one of this country’s finest performers. It’s a mystery to me why he hasn’t got his own prime-time television series.
Faced with a tough crowd – Jews who were in fact hoping to see the delayed Francine Lewis – Mark soldiered on, and I feel certain would have got laughs if anyone had stopped talking long enough to listen to him. My final destination was Israel’s Ministry of Tourism stand, run brilliantly by an amazing woman called Charlene Blake (I’m not just saying that because she’s a friend of mine).
After very little encouragement from her, me and my chum, Bennett Arron (another of Britain’s finest Jewish comedians and the same fellow who’d occupied a seat at the Question Time event) posed for the photo on the left, which I think says it all. A great time was had by everyone.