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An American Jew in London

I am a high holiday Jew. I had a bat mitzvah, a confirmation, and even stayed in religious school all the way through 12th grade. I was very active in my Synagogue in Los Angeles growing up. My community has … Read More

By / December 11, 2008

I am a high holiday Jew. I had a bat mitzvah, a confirmation, and even stayed in religious school all the way through 12th grade. I was very active in my Synagogue in Los Angeles growing up. My community has always included many Jews, I feel strongly about my heritage, and being Jewish is a large part of my identity. That being said, I went to a Presbyterian elementary school and sat next to the Bishop at my high school’s water polo banquet one year. It never mattered and if anything, I’ve always been grateful for the opportunity to learn about different religions and embrace a multi-ethnic society.I have also always been a die hard anglophile, and consequently moved to England several years ago to get a MFA in Staging Shakespeare. For the last five years I’ve lived in London and work as a Theatre Manager in the West End. During this time I have been forced to really look at what being Jewish means to me, and embrace more of an inward Judaism. I’m still not religious, but many of the things I took for granted as a child, I now find were a product of the community I grew up in as opposed specifically to Judaism.

As I said, I am a high holiday Jew, and my first year here, I dutifully looked to join a synagogue in time for the high holidays. At the time I was a student so was able to get free tickets to services at a temple in St. John’s Wood, which was near where I was living at the time. I figured I would try it out and decide whether I wanted to join. Services were fine so I joined. Theatre is hardly conducive to any sort of regular schedule, so despite my best intentions, my involvement was restricted to attending High Holiday services.

Last year I got a great new job, and immediately found the rest of my world crashing down on my head. I started having some problems with my boyfriend and needed to move out of our flat for a time so we could sort things out which directly co-incited with needing a lawyer to help sort out some serious issues with immigration matters. I have no family in Britain and was just starting to build a support network. After panicking for a week or so, I decided my salvation lay in my synagogue. I looked to it as a beacon of hope. Surely they would know someone who needed a house sitter so I could move out of my boyfriends’ flat temporally. Surely there would be a lawyer I could talk to about my immigration issues. I was confident that although I hadn’t been an active member, the Jewish community would help me. I sent a desperate email pouring out my heart and soul, pleading for assistance. Weeks went by with no response. In the meanwhile, a friend offered me her room in her flat while she went and filmed on location. I tracked down an immigration law firm to assist me with my troubles and my relationship sorted itself out for the best. Then one day I got an email from the Temple. They wrote to say they were raising their membership fees and that I now owed them an extra 15 pounds more per month.

I am no longer a member of that Synagogue. I might try a new one next year for High Holiday services, but at the moment, I feel that watching my Los Angeles temple’s High Holiday by webcast suffices. I’ve joined a few ‘Jews in London’ facebook groups and keep track of various events should my schedule permit. I have my own prayer book, and went home to LA for Passover last year. I will light my menorah at Hanukkah and the entertaining search for Hanukkah candles warrants its own post (which will be coming soon). I am still a high holiday Jew, but my observance now comes from me wanting to be observant rather than from a natural community progression. I embrace the multi-cultural and multi- ethnic world in this diverse city in which I can be proud of my Judaism.

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