Thanks to Erika for sending this post from across the Atlantic. Sorry it was originally published without an introduction, but see you back in the States, soon!
Apparently the size of London’s Jewish community is comparable to that of Philly’s. I learned that at an “international students” Shabbat dinner on my third day into a 6-week visit.
International students turned out to mean sitting at a table with two people who had lived in Philly or D.C. The rest of the table was filled out with friendly folks from around Europe and Israel. Most people wisely skipped the “davening,” which was really a bunch of mumbling in a room with a room divider or room divider as mechitza that all of the women present were not comfortable asking about or crossing. Dinner began with a simple, but delicious appetizer: half of an avocado with some unidentifiable white substance on top (parve ranch dressing??), a twirl of smoked salmon, and a single grape tomato. Throughout dinner the host interrupted with short tales of things “our grandparents” went through and ways “we all feel.” It reminded me how a little linguistic consideration can go a long way and that when the effort is not made, it can feel pretty isolating.
Dinner and conversation flowed easily until after 11. Then, just like at a typical Heymish, a group of folks went to a club. (I kid. I really appreciate that Heymish doesn’t conclude that way.) Clubs are, uh, not really my thing, so I quickly went home and slept through any chance of services on Saturday, even though they start pleasantly late (11am).
After this experience and knowing that I had to blog this week, I checked every vaguely progressive/welcoming-seeming shul I could find for Shabbat dinners for this week. I almost booked a dinner for the historic, Sephardi Bevis Marks synagogue, and then a colleague forwarded a booking for tickets to Billy Elliot on Friday night. Oops. So, this Shabbos got off to a very un-shabbos-like start, but the musical did feature political puppetry that happily reminded me of Spiral Q.
For Saturday, I found a progressive synagogue in the neighborhood I’m staying, South London Liberal Synagogue. I got there late and forgot to pick up a siddur, so I followed along in my transliterated traditional-egalitarian siddur. Ended up being a good move. Many of the post-Torah reading prayers were recited in English, and comparing the translations was totally fascinating.
After services, there was a familiar kiddush spread with a ton of kids running around. Another young woman told me about other young progressive Jewish orgs in the area, which was great. But then a young man joined our conversation with, “Are you a Jew?” Ok, (weirdly) there were two Mormon missionaries at services also, so maybe they get visitors a lot and it’s a reasonable question in context. But that is definitely not an ok question. (Pro tip: Neither is “are you pregnant?” And actually, comically-to-me, that question made a [relevant in context] appearance at the dinner the prior week. I’ll resist drawing any cultural stereotype conclusions.)
I’ve left both Shabbat experiences so far with mixed feelings about the events themselves and a lot of gratitude for the conscientious, welcoming folks in Philly.
Inspired by the super simple dinner appetizer: Edamame
-Get some edamame. I had a bag of frozen edamame when I decided to try this.
-Get some boiled water.
-Throw the edamame in the water.
Let it cook till it seems done (it’s way more green?)
-Put in cold/icey water to stop the cooking.
-Pour some salt on the pods.
-Eat/throw in the fridge for later
Click here for a lovely copyrighted picture of edamame, which is why it’s only a link and not the actual picture.