Last week Noemie and I went into London to Brick Lane. Brick Lane, one of the central streets of the East End, was once a hub of Jewish life in the city. Nearby, one finds the oldest operating synagogue in England, Bevis Marks, and there are vestige of Judaism scattered throughout the area. As you can see in the photo of “Taylor’s Yard,” there are still bits of old signage and Jewish culture.
Perhaps most fascinating about the less affluent neighborhood is that like many similar places in major cities, it has become a haven for hipsters. Why, we can ask, has Shoreditch gone from a Bangladeshi area to one with a growing population of tattooed young-adults in pork-pie hats? Young urbanites are looking for a sense of history and community, but one they can play with and customize infinitely and isn’t too expensive. Mostly made up of people my generation, the residents of Shoreditch are the children of baby-boomers. Many of us were raised at the height of consumerism and enjoy juxtaposing decontextualized symbols of pop-culture. Pop-culture icons of the 80s and 90s are visible on t-shits with absurd quotations. Andre the Giant, Steve Urkel, and Super Mario are present but usually expressing an ironic nihilism that is foreign to their original milieu.
The hipster generation, the one that was sold dreams of cushy suburban homes and upward mobility has instead chosen to move back to inner cities, craving what many of our parents sought to flee. Suburbia exists as a world of boundaries. One’s home is surrounded by a lawn or fence, and neighbors have to call before coming over. The family home of the boomer-generation idealizes separate spaces and individualized interests. Children’s rooms might be decorated in their taste or color corresponding to their gender.
The hipster generation is looking for juxtaposition. It places together different cultures, styles, and people, packing them densely together in an act of rebellion against the partitioned, suburban style of the baby-boomers.
BoJack Horseman is perhaps the ideal show to look at to understand the mid-20s to early 40s population. It is a mix of anthropomorphic animal characters and humans. Even boundaries between species are not respected. The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred by alcohol and drugs, under-the-sea adventures, celebrity cameos, and rapid fire pop-culture references. In a word, juxtaposition. The plot meanders and sometimes diverts entirely to explain backstory or binge on 2007 music and fashion. At any moment, there might be several jokes and subtle references happening simultaneously. If one doesn’t pay close attention, there are connections that could be lost. Watching the show with my wife Noemie, we took a short break to view a youtube video of an old Pace Picante Salsa commercial, briefly mentioned by one of the cartoon characters.
After walking visiting the pop-up market food stalls of Shoreditch and Whitechapel (we’re back in reality now), Noemie and I accidentally wandered into a communal space reminiscent of a scene out of Mad Max.
In an empty rubbish yard next to the railroad tracks, the residents of Shoreditch had founded a city. It is more than a community garden, it is a walled compound with individual gardens for personal use but also several houses, club-houses, and tiny cafe’s built out of rubbish wood. Naturally curious, I struck up a conversation with one of the purveyors of local cupcakes and espresso. He explained that the area was a communal space and anyone could bring (or borrow) tools to build a garden or structure of their own, paint, grow vegetables, or start a small business. So long as they are known and trusted by the residents, anyone can come and play. A few people even seemed to be living in self-built structures.
The compound was the perfect summary of what the hipster-generation is looking for, a blurring of boundaries. Each person was entitled to build their own unique project (because each person is a special snowflake) but they are built in close proximity to each other in order to create a sense of community. One man had chosen to build a scale model of the Hagia Sofia Mosque/Church that doubled as a cafe.
One point that makes it difficult for communal institutions to adapt to the ‘young-adult’ crowd is failure to understand juxtaposition. Personal identity for the hipster generation is about the close proximity of dozens, or perhaps hundreds of different components. In order to understand what is going on, one must be steeped in pop-culture as it evolved over the past thirty or so years. Moreover, it is important to mix and combine themes, time periods, and realities. It is perfectly summed up by the centerpiece mural of the community, “Meeting of Styles”
This is the future. Extreme juxtaposition. To quote Mr. Peanut-butter from the critically acclaimed BoJack Horseman series, “what is this, a crossover episode?” Yes, it is, everything is a crossover episode. There are many lessons that can be drawn, but best not to appear to eager. Just retain a sense of ironic detachment and you’ll be fine.
Posted on Jun. 24, 2016 at 11:09 am
I awoke this morning in a different country. Yesterday I accompanied my wife (who holds UK citizenship) to vote on the ‘Brexit’ referendum. She voted that the UK remain in the European Union, a position favored overwhelmingly by people in their 20s and 30s (as much as 75 percent). Last night, we stayed up watching as the votes came in and the percentages on the referendum waffled, and with them the value of the British Pound. Although the measure was predicted to fail by a margin of 4 percent or so, when we woke up this morning we were greeted by a country in chaos.
The measure passed.
The value of the British Pound dropped 10 percent (and with it the value of salaries, pensions, etc.), banks and industry might look to flee the country, the Prime Minister announced he will resign. Huge numbers of EU migrant workers could face expulsion over the next few years, British citizens who live in Spain or France may face problems. Scotland and Wales are suggesting a break from England. Most important, the entire political structure of the European Union is undermined, as other countries could now call for referenda to opt out.
How did this happen? The tropes should sound very familiar in the United States. Xenophobia, racism, protectionism, a failing rural economy with high levels of wealth inequality. Generational divides in wealth and success here in BritaÓin are some of the highest in the world. Ultimately, all these factors led to a rise in far-right-wing politics and a rage-vote of no confidence in the EU.
Even within my own synagogue, admittedly a wealthy suburban congregation, we have had a number of people express anti-European sentiments. Some of them are themselves immigrants who fled from the Nazis who now wish to pull up the ladder after them and leave Syrian refugees wallowing on the other side of the Channel in France. Rural voters and those in towns where industry collapsed twinned with the wealthy conservative class to vote in what was presumed to be the self-interest of Britain at the expense of the EU.
A few words on the EU — not only is the European Union an economic power, but it also has helped Europe function as a political unit since the last World War. It allows for free movement of labor between its member states and encourages a common currency.
The vote has been a disaster already and emerged from a country wracked with economic divisions between the super-wealthy and everyone else. It should sound familiar, and if it doesn’t, Donald Trump’s statement in support of Brexit should clarify any possibility of misunderstanding.
In the U.S., fear of Mexican immigrants has prompted a case for building a new Great Wall of China. We must not allow demagoguery to triumph; we must not allow rage to dictate the democratic process. The consequences for Britain on Day 1 post-Brexit-vote have already been dramatic and unpleasant. Predictions are that the Pound may continue to fall, the economy may collapse, the banking industry (the thing keeping the economy afloat) may flee to Dublin or Paris, and if this continues the future looks bleak.
We must not allow hatred, fear, and xenophobia to govern the democratic process. Here in London the fear is the Syrian refugees and Muslim ‘terrorist’ migrants (if you want to know what this looks like, google “the Jungle” in Calais). As Jews, the echoes should be obvious: a group of people fleeing an oppressive government, camped on one side of a narrow strait of water looking for a way to get across to safety. If the Biblical echoes aren’t enough, we only need to reach back a few decades to see our own people fleeing from Iran, Ethiopia, and Poland.
Rabbi Jason S. Rosner (Wimbledon Synagogue, London), is a Reform Rabbi ordained by Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles (2015). He lives with his wife Noemie in South West London.
For those of you who read the last issue of kehillah, you may have noticed the article promoting the upcoming Shavuot Cheesecake and Learning Festival. The evening was held from 7pm to 12:30am on June 11th and was an enormous success. We were privileged to have 21 teachers, 70 guests, and over a dozen cheesecakes! The event began with Ma’ariv and a plenary session during which I answered the question from last month’s kehillah (why do we eat dairy foods at Shavuot). Although Jewish tradition has many mystical suggestions for the custom’s origin, serving milk based foods such as cheesecake comes from the timing of the holiday in the agricultural cycle. In ancient Israel, many animals such as sheep, goats, and cows would calve earlier in the year. By the time of Shavuot, the calves would be weaned but the mother animals would still be producing milk. Thus, there was a lot of extra dairy around Shavuot time. After our plenary, we split into break away sessions (3 at a time), Limmud style. I would like to take a moment to thank all of our session teachers: Sarah Angel, Diane Barnett, Even Cantor, Michael Conn, Miriam Edelman, Raymond Hart, Julian Hunt, Judith Ish-Horowicz, Simon Itkin, Krisha Leer, Berlin Leiman, Andrew Levine, Camilla McGill, Patricia Perry, Darren and Nathan Selman, Judy Weleminsky, and David Zell. Also, an enormous thanks to our warden for the evening, Josie Knox! Throughout the night, we showcased the talents and interests of our Wimbledon members and it seems it was enjoyed by all. About the evening, attendees have said: “A building full of people sharing and discussing ideas for the whole evening. Great energy, really enjoyable and some good cheesecakes as well!” “It was the best Tikkun Leyl Shavuot that we have been to. I was impressed with the rich variety of the sessions and the quality of the presenters. We do have a very talented community [the evening gave] so many people and giving them an opportunity to contribute and share their passions and their knowledge and, of course, their cheese cake making skills.” Even despite many people tired out from the day’s events (celebrating the Queen’s official birthday) and the lure of an evening football match, we had an impressive turnout.
Toward a Cholent Ethos
Wimbledon Synagogue always makes an excellent kiddush, but the Cholent Ethos (as I term it) is something between a kiddush and a lunch. Making a kiddush with Cholent means living in a grey area, it is comfortable and undefined, amorphous, not quite kiddush, not quite lunch. One could decide for oneself, in the moment, to make it lunch if one ate just a little more, or one could have a tiny amount and then proceed on to a lunch somewhere else. It’s a bit like a nap on the settee, not quite a proper sleep in a bed, but a little more than resting one’s eyes…vague…indulgent…and oh so sweet.
By now I hope that word of the Wimbledon cholent experiment has spread. If one were unfortunately not present, or has not heard by word-of-mouth, Wimbledon synagogue presented a vegetarian cholent and potato kugel for our kiddush a few weeks ago. We hope it is the first of many.
Keep a lookout for our next Cholent Kiddush, and make sure to leave time for a slow, social, and sleep-inducing experience. Moreover, if you have a Cholent recipe that you like, or a recipe for Chamin or Dafina or Kuban that you would like to offer to the community, please seek out our Kiddush team led by Liz and Lynne, or myself. If you would like to participate in preparing a Cholent, likewise seek us out.
What is Cholent, and why are we making it (and why is the Rabbi going on and on about it)? Cholent is an old stew made especially for the Sabbath. The first mention of it by name is over 800 years ago in southern France, but the origins of the dish go back to at least the year 200. It is often made (and voraciously eaten) by Jews of ashkenazi families. It basically involves root vegetables and barley or bulgur (and fatty meat in most versions) in a broth, simmered on a very low heat overnight. It is topped (in ashkenazi versions) with kishka (lit. guts). Kishka is a form of sausage that is the ashkenazi version of haggis, it’s the cheapest (kosher) organ meats that are combined and stuffed in a casing. The vegetarian version of kishka is made of carrots and spices, and still imbues the flavor of cholent with a delicate and delicious richness. It is inexpensive and easy to make, and feeds lots of people with a satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs kind of kiddush experience.
Traditionally, cholent was made of whatever root vegetables were lying around, and whatever cheap meat or bones were accessible to add fat and flavor. Each community, indeed each family has its own recipe, which sometimes leads to cholent-cook-offs in communities who are fond of the slow-cooked-Sabbath-stew. In my own case, I enjoy lots of paprika (in our recent Wimbledon version, we used an entire small bottle of the stuff), garlic, and eggs floating on top that hard boil and take on the flavour and colour of the stew.
Cholent (or its regional equivalent) is a quintessential Shabbat food, as it starts cooking Friday afternoon and is served hot on Saturday. Thus, it adheres to the traditional prohibition against “cooking” on the Sabbath. If you’re interested in the details of why, we may (hint hint) eventually be running classes on the history of the dish!
Finally, the most important thing about Cholent however, is the smell of it wafting out from the kitchen to get stomachs rumbling towards the end of services. It is the anticipation and eventual fulfillment that makes Cholent so delightful. In making it for the community, we hope that people will casually linger around the shul after services to chat, or even…dare I say it…nap on one of our settees.