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TV review: Growing Up Jewish and 60 Classical Years: BBC Two at 60

03 May 2024

BBC/True Vision East/Rosemary Baker

Dylan at his bar mitzvah in Growing Up Jewish (BBC1, Wednesday of last week

Dylan at his bar mitzvah in Growing Up Jewish (BBC1, Wednesday of last week

HOWEVER thoroughly your church prepares candidates for confirmation, I suspect that you don’t require them to learn New Testament Greek. This was just one of the illuminating contrasts to be gleaned from Growing Up Jewish (BBC1, Wednesday of last week, broadcast to mark Passover), which followed four young people on the run up to their bar mitzvah (boys) or bat mitzvah (girls). They all had to learn Hebrew — or at least enough to recite a passage from the Torah.

It gave a taste of UK Jewish practice, from Orthodox to Liberal; but, as all came from comfortable north London backgrounds, and no Ultra-Orthodox were depicted, it was hardly a full covering of that rich bandwidth. Perhaps the most revealing aspect was the mixture of religious observance and social pleasure. A cynic might say that uppermost for some of its subjects was the subsequent no-holds-barred party, at which they would be the centre of all attention, but my reaction (as a good Anglican for whom compromise and incoherence are second nature) is that it was far more complex and admirable than that.

The Hebrew must not just be read, but inflected, chanted — as though we made every confirmand sing, unaccompanied, the Easter Exultet. It is an illuminating comparison, because that week’s relevant passage was precisely our Christian paschal text: the crossing of the Red Sea, the defining moment of liberation from slavery to freedom. They all have to comment on its meaning, and I was moved by Dylan’s discomfort at the Israelites’ rejoicing at the wholesale drowning of the Egyptians: for one so young, he displayed a remarkable level of moral awareness and public courage, matched by his insistence on also referring to the current Israel-Gaza war.

As part of their preparation, each had to undertake some practical action, a work of charity and selfless giving, demonstrating that their new relationship with God and adult membership of his family has serious social consequences: that’s one element we might do well to borrow. The strongest impression is of the interconnection between religious observance and ordinary everyday life, with no binary dichotomy between sacred and secular.

Sixty Classical Years: BBC Two at 60 (Sunday, 21 April) was a blockbuster of clips from the channel’s treasure chest of performances by great singers, players, orchestras, and conductors. If intended to reassure us that this precious heritage is in safe hands, its effect was exactly the opposite. Recordings ended before the final chord had died away; a ballet sequence promising Nureyev and Fonteyn showed not a single step from either. The explanatory captions focused mainly on whether the tune had featured in a film or a TV programme.

This appalling dumbing-down populism demonstrated both lamentable ignorance and contempt for its audience, who were deemed uninterested in anything more demanding than lollipop sound-bites.

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