Sunday, September 29, 2013

It's a secular yomtov and a new beginning

Just got back from the JW3 opening weekend - wow.

Timed to open just after Rosh Hashanah and all associated festivities are over, and taking the theme "in the beginning", the piazza was decked out as a Garden of Eden complete with graffiti art, Adam and Eve performance artists, cake, klezmer and... the whole building was abuzz with activity. 

I'm bowled over by the creativity, programme, café / restaurant (can't wait to try those Ottolenghi-esque delicacies), finish on the building and general excitement of the new JW3 building.

Walking down the Finchley Road, it actually felt like a yomtov - throngs of well-dressed Jewish people walking towards a building for a common purpose, getting sidetracked saying hi to someone they hadn't seen in like forever. But a secular yomtov - a place where you can go and just be Jewish (not that I mind the other kind of Jewish building: in fact, I quite like shul).

Of course, there's always been a problem with a surfeit of Jewish buildings, and getting (especially younger people) inside them. Although somehow I suspect that this won't be a problem in NW3. Since I wrote about Jews and the Property Question in the Jewish Quarterly back in 2005, the project's moved on: there's no gym, and I'm more convinced that the Jewish Community Centre for London (as it was back then) will probably keep itself more than filled with locals, Finchleyites, and Jews and non-Jews of all hues, drawn by the food, vibe and programming.

Here are just five things I like:

1   It's a great building
(by great architects). Time was, Jewish buildings were slightly shabby , often painted that "Jewish blue" slightly reminiscent of the JNF, and felt like some youth club had just left it a little s'brochen. This building is light, airy, feels like a buzzing creative space where lots can (and will) happen. There's no hint of the rabbit-warren corridors familar in many shuls, or imperfect proportions of repurposed spaces.

2   There's no "Jewish airlock"
(As far as I can tell - there were thousands of people there today). Back in the day when I was involved in AJ6 / UJS / organisations based in Balfour House or 305 / visited the old JC offices, I found myself stuck in a Jewish airlock. You know: the first door opens and lets you into a security-glassed vestibule where a burly Israeli shouts through a small window demanding to know your business. Once you're approved, the second door opens.

Of course, I get it, security's important, but it's not (to me, anyhow) the defining feature of being Jewish. Like, if the world is divided into the CST (the people outside the building) and the rest of us (the people inside the building), I'm definitely inside the building. But still.

But what JW3 is saying is this: welcome, come in. However Jewish (or not) you might be, come and explore in this Jewish space.

3   The programme's great
Feels like there's something for everyone; foodies, textualists, kids, families, yoga-bunnies, seekers and finders. I love the diversity and creativity of what's on offer, the style that underlines it, and the depth of Jewish knowledge and insight that informs it.

4   Anglo-Jewry is finally funky
Well, it has been for a while. I've certainly felt for say eight years, that I don't need to go to New York anymore to get my funky/interesting Jewish fix. Jewish Book Week, the Jewish Film Festival, Gefiltefest, LSJS, Limmud, Grassroots Jews ... to name only a handful, have kept me engaged, excited, living, learning Jewish stuff and now there's one more piece to add to the jigsaw.

5   Raymond Simonson is the Secular Chief Rabbi
I've known Raymond through his Limmud years, and he's inspirational. He's knowledgeable, insightful, really knows how to engage people, and is also a DJ (although we shouldn't hold that against him.) While I know JW3 isn't only about secular stuff, I feel like secular Jews finally have someone to speak for and to them. And so, I officially crown you, Ray - Secular Chief Rabbi.

A few years back, I penned The New Jew Manifesto and I think I was trying to articulate the kind of Jew I want to be - open, open-minded, celebratory, positive, and I feel like in some way JW3 does this. Of course there are naysayers - no parking, how can they... - but I feel like there should just be more good Jewish stuff, and this is definitely that.

So - check it out. If you live anywhere near London and even if you don't (I saw old friends from all four corners of the city and beyond today) get down there. See a movie. Do some yoga. Take a class (or a cookery class) or just hang out in the bar.

Which is where you'll find me, my iPad, my work email, a coffee and a chocolate rogelach. See you there.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The power of advertising...

- Mummy, (he says as he crawls into bed for a cuddle this morning) you don't need a credit score, you just need someone you know to do a credit score
- What is a credit score, Joshie?
- It's a score for credit
- What's credit?
- Like a credit card

Mmm, either he's a four year old financial advisor, or he's watching too much TV...

I know this is true because on Friday, driving up to Manchester, D and I were talking about the broadband engineer who'd just been to reset our levels (whatever that means), when a little voice in the back piped up
- Mummy, you can get unlimited broadband for £9.99 with sky

Do not underate the power of advertising.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

One hundred years later...

Today is 100 years since Emily Wilding Davison died under the King's horse at Epsom, in the fight for women's suffrage. If you get a chance to watch the Clare Balding documentary, Secrets of a Suffragette, it's quite amazing. The Pankhurst daughters went to my school (Manchester High) and  turns out the suffragettes were not just chaining themsleves to railings, but basically terrorists, not the "nice girls" we were led to believe. The Pankhursts only "turned off" the directive for serious action because of the onset of the Great War. Anyway, Emily, I'm remembering you and all the work you and your sisters did a hundred years later. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saints Alive

Perhaps it was, in retrospect, a mistake to take a small boy to the Michael Landy Saints Alive at the National Gallery. 10ft brutal, kinetic sculptures making huge loud noises (even if you do get to press the buttons) is pretty scary. Offset with a tour of the original saints pictures (golden, mummy), Whistlejacket (our favourite) lunch, a fabulous artists sticker book and brass rubbing in St Martin in the Fields next door.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Been a while - but customer service still crap

I know, I know... I used to blog like every day and now it's once in a while (you should see my facebook posts, though...).

I don't know quite how it happened, but I got into upholstery. I'm doing a fabulous class, and found a really inspirational teacher, although when she saw my great ebay find (multi-position double cushioned thirties oak recliner) she did say "most people start with a stool."

So on top of that project, I'm making some foam seat cushions for stools (I took the advice) and our hall bench. The internet tells me I need some kind of stocking to put the foam in before I put it inside the cushion - don't ask me why - and fortuitiously, last friday, I was in North Finchley, on my way to meet a friend for coffee, and found an old-fashioned haberdashery shop. I was so delighted. I went in, and she showed me a stocking-type thing I could use, and when I asked her the price, she started serving someone else.

I was a little pissed off and impatient (piss-patient?) but hung around as long as I could, until  I was almost-late and had to go. When I turned to leave, she said "where are you going?" and I said I couldn't wait any longer, I was late to meet someone. She raised her eyebrows like I was in the wrong. I should have known then.

This week, I was driving past the shop on my Friday morning chores-run-around when I thought, hey, I'll run in there and get the foam stocking, perfect. All week, I've been meaning to buy it online, but this is even better, a local, indepedent shop.

[For the sake of not being the goto search on the web for her shop, I'm not going to name it. But let's face it, how many haberdashery shops are there in north London?]

I go in, say a cheery good morning (she's on the phone) and stride to the back of the shop to the roll of un-priced stocking. I still don't know how much it is, but I think hey, support a local shop, I'll pay whatever it is.

She finishes her phonecall, and I expect her to come and serve me, but she picks up the phone to make another call. I wait. It's her utility company. I walk up to her and mouth "can you serve me?" and she mouths, "I'm on the phone." I mouth "I'm a customer" and she does a hand wave that I should wait. I turn to leave - I mean, who needs this? Then I hear her rather agressively tells her utility supplier she'll call back.

By now, I'm at the front of the store, and she runs up to me, and grabs my arm, asking me what I want. I tell her that this is the second time I've returned to her shop and she's not served me either time and I'll go home and order it on the internet. She starts shouting at me and saying "I'm eva-, eva-, eva-"

I briefly think she's introducing herself, but then I realise she's "ever so sorry." I tell her it's too late, and this is not the way to treat (potential) customers and it's too much hard work to go to her shop and I'll go home and order online.

I leave the shop with her gesticulating at the door like I've done something wrong.

She seem's to have been in business for a long time, judging by the faded signage and hand-crafted ocassional price tags. I don't know she does it.

And that is why, ultimately, we'll all buy everything on the internet.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Downton, Parade's End and British food between the wars

I am completely loving Downton, and was devestated by Sunday night's turn of events (even if I did watch it on Monday, through the wonder of PVR).

Came across this fascinating piece in the Observer about British food between the wars, and I thought, yes, I am indeed the kind of woman who paints her house white, and breakfasts in bed (althought the latter, rarely).

I'm currently in new cookbook mode, happily awaiting the arrival of the new Ottoleghi, so Arabella Boxer's Book of English Food looks fascinating, although I suspect, hardly vegetarian...