For the past two weeks, I had the pleasure of being the navigator of the Yiddish group of the Danube strand of the UCL Global Citizens Summer School. This has been an exciting journey from its very start. While other groups focused on migrants that arrived in London from the Danubian region more recently, there has been no Yiddish-speaking population along the Danube since the Second World War. The task was to find an individual from the respective cultural group in London that could become the subject of our portrait documentary. Although most Yiddish speakers tend to be Jewish, not all Jews would be speakers of Yiddish. We were aware of the presence of an ultra-Orthodox community in London but none of us had fully realised that many of its members would speak only Yiddish or Hebrew but almost no English. Two weeks with a full programme of Yiddish language classes, lectures and creative tasks leave only limited room to explore a new community. We were lucky that we managed to find a Yiddish speaker through the extended network of one of our group members. Initially we were unsure what to expect but it turned out that our subject Izzy was a former Hasidic Jew who had chosen to leave his old ultra-Orthodox life behind in a quest to study sciences and explore a life beyond Stamford Hill.
Izzy proved be great gatekeeper – on many levels. He was very open about his own experience but he was also happy to answer all our questions about the ultra-Orthodox life. He took us around Golders Green, traditionally the home to large parts of the Jewish community in London but also his home since leaving Stamford Hill. However, the two weeks were an intensive learning journey for all of us. As we all came from different countries ourselves, we could share some of our own knowledge and experience with Izzy, who knew little about countries such far afield as Japan and China. We sang Yiddish songs with our language teacher Barry Davis in every lesson and even if we may not all have been the most proficient singers, we definitely enjoyed ourselves.
The summer school ultimately, became something which was first and foremost a bonding experience between the group as well as with our subject Izzy. Working together on a film in such a short time, while having to learn the basics of video editing, is intense. However, the feeling when everybody crowds together around the small screen to watch the finished product is priceless. Those two weeks were a truly beautiful and global experience.