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