This Tuesday our navigator Anna-Cara invited us all, including Izzy, for a meal in another area of London home to an Orthodox Jewish community; Golders Green. As Izzy now lives there and knows the area well, he recommended that we eat at his favourite Japanese restaurant where we had a wonderful meal, fulling embracing the spirit of global citizenship. Never tiring of Izzy’s stories and experiences, we chatted and ate, then spent the rest of the evening wandering the neighbourhood as the sun went down.
The Jewish presence was less apparent on the high street than it had been in Stamford Hill, then as we kept walking we started to pass Jewish education centres, barbers, bakeries (where we stopped to buy some goods!) and of course synagogues. Though still Orthodox, the community there seemed much less closed off: most spoke English, not Yiddish, and were for the most part friendly and approachable. Some of the children already know Izzy’s face, and he told us rather proudly how he is known to some as a “heretic”, as he is rather fond making his (dis)beliefs known, and is not bothered about keeping a low profile. Soon we made it all the way back to Izzy’s student house, where we sat in the cozy lounge while Izzy showed us the personal diary he wrote during his transition to atheism. It was amazing how warm, welcoming and open he was to a group of people he has only known for a couple of days. Izzy has shown and taught us so much, and not just about his experiences as a Jew in London. Soon he’ll be moving to Bristol to begin his degree in Physics, and we wish him all the best!
Through one of our group members, we got in contact with Izzy, a former member of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community in London, who is currently studying in Birkbeck University. He shared generously his take on Yiddish culture and Judaism. For us as students of Yiddish culture, this was a fascinating experience. We are taught Yiddish through songs and texts, which are often more than a hundred years old. Thus, it was a great opportunity to meet someone our own age who grew up speaking Yiddish in present day London.
To Izzy, it was a pity that the original diversity and sophistication of the Yiddish language was badly impaired after the Holocaust. With occasional exposure to the secular world, his curiosity about the ‘outside world’ grew and he started teaching himself English, which explained to him concepts apparently missing in the Yiddish culture. He began to read prohibited books of philosophy, literature and science at the age of eighteen. When he was describing to us his decision on leaving the community, he appeared easy and not having any regrets, but to me, a decision that cuts the connection from his parents, siblings and subsequently the entire orthodox community would never be an easy one.
Now being in his twenties, Izzy grasps every opportunity to quench his thirst for knowledge. Besides the fact that he pursues a degree of Math and Physics in Birkbeck University, he also decided to become an atheist, while retaining his connection with Judaism. After all religion is a personal choice and Izzy is enjoying the freedom to build a future in the midst of diverse culture in London.
Serena & the Crew
The Yiddish group have been sailing strong these past two days, learning more than anyone ever expected about the language and its speakers. On Wednesday we had a fascinating discussion with Izzy, a native yiddish speaker who left the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Stamford Hill. Undzer lerer Barry has been guiding us through smatterings of the Yiddish language, filling lessons with as many songs as he can which he sings with infectious enthusiasm whiles the rest of us do our best to sing along, albeit less melodiously. Now that we’ve accomplished our first challenge of the programme, our portrait of Izzy, we’ll be focussing this weekend on collecting footage for our short documentary film. Sholem!
The Yiddish group of the Danube has started to explore Yiddish life in London.
Our exploration is taking place in many form: Through Yiddish lessons with our language teacher Barry Davis, by talking to members and ex-members of the Yiddish community in London and by visiting places of cultural significance such as the Jewish Cultural Centre JW3 on Finchley Road, the Ben Uri Gallery, the Wiener Library for the study of Holocaust or the Orthodox community in Stamford Hill.
The Yiddish crew filming in Bloomsbury
The day started off beautiful and sunny while we had a thought provoking talk and discussion about the Romany, the language, and its significance in modern society as well as the discrimination of the Romas throughout the centuries. This was interesting for our group especially as there are many parallels and contrasts between Yiddish and Romany which made us have an interesting discussion.
Then we worked on the poster and had a language class with Barry where we analysed in detail two very different songs about drinking alcohol. One was a narrative where the man got drunk, lost all his possessions and despite his wife’s practical laments, said that everything is alright as there is a god (a got iz nokh do…). The other one was a bit less about consequences and how as one drinks, one has less choice about whether they should drink or not. Both very useful lessons in the modern binge drinking culture as well.
The Yiddish group had a very exciting and eventful weekend. On Saturday the film crew went to shoot a short interview with our documentary portrait character -let me keep her identity as a secret until the day of the film screening- all I can say for now, is that she is the perfect person for this task. While our poster team was working hard on finding Yiddish speakers and gathering data and pictures to be ready for Tuesday.
In the evening we went to a Klezmer gig, where we got to know the Yiddish Klezmer music, as well as dance and having fun with our group members. We interviewed the musicians, and discovered that they came from several backgrounds and they all had different reasons that brought them together in Klezmer music. A website report on this experience will follow soon, so watch this space.
Monday morning started with an interesting lecture, where we learned about the Jewish life and death along the river Danube. The footage and archive material the speaker presented was very engaging. On our webpage, you can see my short article on this lecture. Later during our group tutorial we discussed a wide range of topics, including how advancing nationalism prevents collaboration between nations.
After this we made sure that everyone knew what they should do to bring the project forward, such as transcribing the film, working on finding data for the poster, writing articles for the website or editing a film of the Klezmer concert night.
Then we had our Yiddish lecture, with lots of songs. We feel really lucky to have a Yiddish teacher, who not only has a great voice but also introduces us to the Yiddish culture and language through various teaching methods.
Then we all went to find our United Nations Conference groups, and our group succeeded in sending prosperous amendments.
By Viktória Makai, Yiddish group
In the 17th century, travellers moving down the Danube toward its delta were warned against travelling further by many of those living along its banks. Townspeople frequently claimed to be living at the easternmost point of civilisation, those living further downstream being “semi-barbaric”. A common view of the Danubian area in that time was it existing as a gradient between the civilised, rational Western Europeans and the strange inhabitants of Asia, a view that pervades through a great deal of travel writing. Though this idea is thankfully held by few today, the attitude persists. This was one of the topics found in this Friday’s lecture aimed to highlight the Danube as viewed by travel writers before the 20th century. It was given by Wendy Bracewell, a professor of South-East European history. The lecture made for interesting discussion in the tutorial afterwards, with topics of debate including the need to shake our western-centric view of civility and the difficulty in gaining an in-depth view of a culture when travelling.
We also had the opportunity to hear from Edina Csányi, who had arrived from Luxembourg to discuss her work with the European Investment Bank on cross-border project management. Her insight on this was valuable and a lot of the advice was transferable to other enterprises we may begin. Of particular interest to me was the discussion of how to overcome cultural differences to maintain a positive and productive working environment. In the afternoon, another Yiddish lesson covered the cultural importance of the shtetl, small towns supporting relatively large Jewish populations. Some group members carried out an interview to be uploaded soon, while the rest of the team prepared for the documentary filming to be carried out in Golder’s Green tomorrow.
The third day started very academically: we listened to a lecture by Dr. Thomas Lorman, who told us more about the Danube in the Carpathian Basin throughout the history. In a tutorial that followed we discussed the main points presented. We found it really surprising that until the 19th century the Danube was unnavigable, unbridged and in fact un-mapped as well. Some of our group members recalled their journeys between Romania and Bulgaria that included crossing the bridge over the Danube – whether it was on a train or in a car, the crossing itself took about half an hour and it was as if the Danube had no longer been a river but a sea. The major part of our discussion, however, was about the cultural diversity and interaction between “peoples” of different origin along the Danube and how it was greatly constrained in the years of and after the Second World War. That inevitably led us to focus on a more recent and hugely important issue for most of us: the referendum on (hopefully not) Brexit.
But that was only the beginning. Then we attended a session about poster making, what made us aware of what we actually needed to do. Our third meeting with Yiddish language was about East End Yiddish Theatres in London. We got to know how Yiddish theatre emerged and what kind of plays were most popular. In the late afternoon all Danubian groups gathered to watch a short Romanian documentary set in the Danubian Delta, or how protagonists said, “our swamp”. We appreciated “Swamp dialogues” especially because of a great sense of humor locals had as though their living conditions had not been so harsh. In the evening we made it to what all students really like and look for: free dinner and drinks. We enjoyed Hungarian cuisine and talked a lot as well, so that an author of this log got home quite late, which is the reason why this very log is appearing on the website in the morning, rather than in the evening, as it was planned.
A gutn! [All the best/Goodbye]
It was safe to say that the rain did not hamper the excitement of the students as it was evident in the rising noise of the discussions taking place before early morning information session began. With almost 900 students from 10 different strands ranging from a disease outbreak to global environmental justice….The programme started and we were given a brief about what to expect in the next two weeks and what we were expected to contribute. This was followed by 3 students who previously took part in the programme giving us a taste of their experiences, this definitely raised the expectation of students and the excitement to start the course could be seen in the atmosphere in the auditorium.
The language is interesting. The hour long session ended with the students introducing their names in Yiddish, and our language teacher sang a song in Yiddish.
By Molly Hugh
Day two on the Danube strand of the Global Citizenship programme began with a lecture, followed by a skills session on poster design, a Yiddish class revolving around the alphabet and finally a group tutorial. Professor M. Berkowitz gave a passionate lecture on the real everyday lives of Jews in Vienna prior to the Second World War; a group that has been engulfed and surrounded by stereotypes to such an extent that it is hard to discern what is fact and what is fiction. Berkowitz approached the topic via the question, ‘What did Jews really do with their daily lives?’, before going on to explain how elements of culture in Vienna became stamped with the label of being purely Jewish. This lead to the development of stereotypes which served to negatively categorise and marginalise the Jewish community, simply because of their interest in becoming involved with, and developing, parts of Austrian culture. Many people at the time therefore began to accuse the Jewish community of robbing the Austrians of the best jobs when, in fact, as Berkowitz demonstrated, the majority of Jews actually took up jobs that locals didn’t want – a misconception which can also be found in our society today.
Another element which contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism in the build up to Nazi Germany was the way in which Judaism became considered a threat to Catholicism; some considered Jews to be ‘Christ killers’, as if their aim was to destroy Catholic influence in Vienna. Strangely enough, anti-semitism also appeared in the shape of walking sticks. Some people channelled their dislike for Jews through publicly leaning their weight upon the carved wooden head of a stereotypical Jewish person (which quite ironically also mocks characteristics that can be found on people anywhere in the world, not just on Jews!).
Therefore, to counter the ridiculous anti-Semitic stereotypes and to answer his own question, Berkowitz explained that Jews did the same as anybody else in their daily lives; they worked, studied and made a living for their families. In other words, they behaved in the stereotypical way of anybody in Vienna – in general they weren’t an exception.
In the Yiddish group’s discussion of the lecture, the point was raised that global citizenship implies that people should be able to be a citizen of the world and not of a specific country. Furthermore, this would suggest that a global citizen should be able to get along with all other people, regardless of their backgrounds and contrasting characteristics. Therefore, perhaps Jews are true global citizens in their attempt to live alongside other cultures and to partake in other lifestyles while keeping their own alive. It was also discussed that too much emphasis is placed on how groups of people are different to each other (whether by appearance, faith or lifestyle) when really the importance lies in how people are similar and how they can work together. Consequently, maybe this is the key to global citizenship: if we look for the positives in people that may at first seem different to us and work on building a relationship from an optimistic angle, can we then claim to be citizens of the world?