So here’s something I noticed about London pretty soon upon arriving: There are not a lot of Jews here.
A sample conversation during my first week went something like this:
“Oh you’re Jewish?”
“I know someone who’s Jewish.”
To me, this was odd. It was as if I were a rare species of sorts. In New York, you can’t sneeze, let alone cross Sixth Avenue, without meeting a Jew. They’re everywhere: from the UES to the West Village, from Hearst to Conde Nast, from Mount Sinai to Lennox Hill, from Blue Ribbon to Recette. Lots of -man’s, -stein’s, Cohen’s, Schwartz’s and the like.
Now, let’s get one thing straight here: None of the NJs (that’d be non-Jews) I’ve met have ever spoken ill of my tribe. They just don’t seem to come across many of us on a daily basis. It was a surprise to me…and almost a little uncomfortable. (To be fair, and to add an obligatory disclaimer: I was way outta my league during last week’s pope excitement and am quite aware that New York isn’t, say, Omaha, Nebraska where they might have said the same thing.)
I honestly didn’t think it mattered – to be Jewish or to not be Jewish – in London. I’m like Popeye: I am what I am. I also didn’t think I missed a connection to Judaism. Then a friend of Ellie’s invited me to a “Jewish engagement party.” When she described it like that, I had a little LOL. (And when I say LOL, I mean, to LTM — Laugh To Myself — cause that’s really what most of us do, right?) It wasn’t just any engagement party, but a Jewish engagement party. I thought this was funny for two reasons: One, I had absolutely no idea Natalie (Ellie’s friend) was Jewish. (Though, how and why would I? I suppose. The stereotypical assumption to decipher this fact via last name is just that: a stereotype. Plus, if we’re going there, hers is no Lieberman.) And two, I didn’t consider how a Jewish engagement party might be different from any other type of engagement party. Not to mention how baffled I was by the fact that people even throw engagement parties anymore!
We had been trying to make plans for weeks so when I asked her to go to the cinema on Sunday evening and she mentioned this “Jewish engagement party” for which she needed a wingwoman, I thought, “Sure! Let’s do it.” Me being me, I also thought, “Maybe there will be some cute Jewish boys there.” (Alas, there were, but non of the single variety.)
Once we established it was totally OK to ask her ex-boyfriend (the groom!) if she could bring another girl as her “date” (very SATC, “Can’t we register for Manolos?”), we texted about our ensembles and met 15 minutes before to actually meet each other and discuss who’s-who as a pre-party primer.
The celebration was held in high-ceilinged gallery in North London. It was impressive, to say the least. There must’ve been at least 125 people there – some in Sunday jeans and flats, some in dresses and heels. There were colorful floral bouquets in mason jars, bowls full of mixed nuts, a free-flowing bar and even a coat check. Despite the fact that I was eating mini salmon canapés and drinking elderflower cocktails supplied by someone whose last Jewish name I did not know, I felt at home.
Maybe it was the scent of burnt onions, which usually fills my house during Hanukah when my mom’s frying up latkes. Or maybe it was the old nebbish guy whose fly was down, but had absolutely no idea. Or the eclectic mix of fashions, from the kooky aunt who likes to pair black Mary-Janes with white tights, thick-framed red glasses and beaded necklaces to the pretty-young-thing in designer heels and a Louis Vuitton clutch. All I know, is that I felt welcomed and I felt a sense of community.
(My mom and rabbi are probably kvelling as they’re reading this, btw.)
Maybe it’s no different from how Catholics feel when they attend a baptism. Or even how an alumni from Oxford or Syracuse feels when they meet another alumni from Oxford or Syracuse. Or how a new Mom of twins feels when they meet a new Mom of twins. There’s a shared sense of sameness there.
For me, it went a bit deeper than that, and all I know is that not only am I SO excited to have my parents here, but I’m even more excited to be attending, with them, a Seder in celebration of my favorite Jewish holiday: Passover. It’s a common thing to open your doors to strangers for this holiday, and that’s what a friend of mine I met through work is doing (by way of her Jewish boyfriend).
Tonight, we’ll come bearing wine, Yotam Ottolenghi’s new recipe book, an open mind and, most of all, gratitude. For giving me – us – a sense of sameness, and a sense of home that I didn’t even know I missed. And hey, this year in London, but maybe next year in Jerusalem for realz.