There’s a deli in Toronto owned by a good friend, Zane Caplansky and at Caplansky’s you can buy t-shirts that say ‘Bad news Jews’. It’s still funny!
It’s a whole year since I moved back to London to start my job with City of London Sinfonia and it’s the third year that I’m not together with my family for the Jewish High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the Jewish New year and subsequent Day of Atonement. Some of the holiest, or most important days of the year. It’s a time for reflection, family and most importantly, food. It’s really interesting to be a Jew abroad. British/English Judaism is different. It’s stealthier. Under the radar unless you live in specific Jewish communities. The fervent and public Jewishness of Toronto is virtually unseen here. I’ve always worn my North American Conservative Jewishness like a badge of honour. A statement of: I am a person who values community, family, charity and inclusion. Perhaps that’s an over simplified view, but I think it’s part of what makes me, well me. It’s the parts of me that people love, the parts of me that allow me love others with abandon and verve.
I’m not religious. In fact, I’m probably a pretty ‘bad’ Jew – but culturally it brings me such comfort and connection – to my family who are far away. To my grandparents who taught me some of my most useful lessons and to my ancestors who’ll I’ll never know. It ties me to something greater, not a deity, so much as a community. A spirit of togetherness. I miss that a little. It feels odd to not be with them and to be in a place that lacks the same kind of cultural awareness I’m used too. It’s not bad, it’s just part of the journey of finding my life in London and how my Jewishness fits into that bigger picture. I love Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because I like to reflect. To think about what my weaknesses are and how I could be better, be kinder and be more generous to myself and to others. I think it’s meaningful to ask others to forgive you for carelessness or downright meanness. I also think it’s important to go hungry sometimes, especially when there are millions who go hungry everyday.
I get a little weepy thinking about it all.Walking my grandfather to his seat. Hearing the cantor singing Kol Nidre next week and not holding my father’s arm in the uncomfortably air conditioned sanctuary at Beth Zedec. In those moments, we’re united with great and great great grandparents who listened or sang these prayers. There is such power in that collective memory.
Whatever your background or belief, it’s such a natural time to reflect and embrace Autumn, a kind of natural start to the year. I wish you an easy back to school or work from time away and a sweet 2015-16 with those you love. For those for whom it has meaning, l’shana tova.