Sunday, September 25, 2005

About a year and a half ago the synagogue got a new Chabad rabbi who is trying to revitalize the area.


The French equivalent to JAP (Jewish American Princess) is Shalala. The French girls in the house taught it to me, and told me that they consider it a big insult. It has become my new favorite word, and I use it quite a lot, which the French seem to find most funny. Thursday night a group of us were talking, the French girls were discussing anti-Semitic incidents that occurred to them, the stories were truly frightening, apparantly the Muslims in France are quite menacing when it comes to Jews and have a knack of spotting Jews in subway stations, etc.

On Thursday I went to the center of London for the first time since I have arrived. The first order of business was to get my LSE student card. Within 1 minute of standing in line to get my card I met the guy waiting behind me, he is a Jewish American studying European Integration in a one year masters program similar to mine. We walked around campus together and exchanged phone numbers, he seemed surprised that I do not answer my phone on Shabbat, as if I am some kind of religious extremist.

Friday I went shopping in Golders Green with two French girls from the Hillel. I was able to buy some meat and cheeses which I cannot get in the area (as its not kosher here). The prices are very expensive though and I have to shop carefully. What I still have to get from there is the Kosher food guide and a Shabbat belt for my keys (there is no eruv here).

Shabbat I stayed in the Hillel house. There is a synagogue about 10 minutes away. Kilburn used to be a very Jewish area. Over the years most of the Jews moved away and the synagogues withered away. About a year and a half ago the synagogue got a new Chabad rabbi who is trying to revitalize the area. On Friday morning I called up the Rabbi, and he immediately invited me, and anyone else from the house, to his home for lunch, and I accepted (it was Friday morning!). Friday night I ate at the house, the French residents of the house bought many friends so that more than half the meal was French, and they dominated the meal. The meal itself was very nice, and the French sang many zemirot which they knew. Here, as opposed to where I lived before, I cannot take religion for granted so I prepared a dvar Torah which I said at the table and which seemed to go over very well. I basically spoke about the Mitzvah of Bikurim, how it teaches us to be thankful for the small as well as the big, and how it says that you should be joyous - which shows that joyous observance of the Mitzvot is a sign of one's true desire to get close to God as opposed to keeping Mitzvot because of social inertia or expectations.

Speaking of religion it seems that while many here are observant to one degree or another there is nonetheless a large gap between the religious atmosphere that I was raised in and that I lived in at BIU, and what the other people here practice. Some of them have interesting stories, one British girl was telling me that she went to Catholic school (her father is Catholic, mother is Jewish) and did not like it and became interested in Judaism. She never had a Jewish education and so wants to learn more, specifically Talmud. I told her that while she certainly could learn Talmud, it is often arcane and very technical and I am not sure she would benefit so much from it, there are much better sources to study from which will give her a better understanding of the basics of Judaism. One thing I have already learned - I should be more positive about Judaism. Many of the people here seem to want to learn more about Judaism and have a favorable impression of Judaism, I have to realize that not every Jew is a Ha'aretz Op-ed writer and thus I need not be apologetic.

Getting back to the Chabad rabbi for a moment the lunch by him was a most enjoyable experience. I was there with another 3 Hillel students. Among his guests was Simon Hochhauser, who is the new president of the United Synagogue. We discussed many interesting topics, including the difficulties posed by the United Synagogue's (Modern Orthodox Org) reliance on the London Beit Din (Haredi Org) for Halachic advice and the need to develop Modern Orthodox rabbinical leadership. The Chabad rabbi seemed very open minded and his wife was talking about discrimination against women in the United Synagogue so I am glad that in the future when I come back I can feel comfortable about expressing my views. It is also good that I now know the Rabbi in the area so I can discuss with him any religious issues that may arise.

In other news Moshe Kaveh, the president of BIU, harshly condemned those rabbis who promote delusional visions and false Messianism. The Religious Zionist public is still sorting through the fallout from the disengagement, I hope the direction that it takes will be one of increasing engagement with the Israeli mainstream and more concern for social issues (such as increaing teacher's pay). There is a lot of energy to be harnassed here, it just has to be done in positive ways. In the meantime I am glad that Kaveh (and hopefully others) will not be afraid to stand up to those who are portrayed as infalliable and the final authoritoes on everything under the sun.

That is enough for now, there is a lot more that I could write about but I will stop here. To see a picture of me in Trafalgar Square this past Thursday just follow this link

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