The sushi bar that helps feed a social conscience
Former Aish UK director Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt has launched a new educational venture in a former pub. Here’s why
THEY ARE NO longer pulling pints or cranking out the karaoke at the Royal Oak in Temple Fortune, Golders Green. Instead, the former pub has become the centre for a unique symbiosis: between a kosher sushi café and an Orthodox educational outfit with an accent on social action. Tikun was founded nearly 15 months ago by two émigrés from the outreach group Aish, including its previous executive director, Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt. London is hardly short of Orthodox educational organisations with a brief to reach the less observant: apart from Aish, there is the Jewish Learning Exchange, Lubavitch, Kesher and Seed. But this one claims to be serving unmet needs.
That starts with its distinctive name. Tikkun olam, “improving the world”, is the buzzword usually associated with Progressive Jewish groups promoting social responsibility. ( Tikkun is the name, too, of a California-based, left-wing Jewish magazine.)
But if tikkun olam is certainly on the agenda of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s new venture, the name alludes to another kind of tikkun also — tikkun middot, “personal improvement”. And, he believes, neither type of tikkun has been emphasised enough in Jewish education.
“If you ask people what an Orthodox Jew is, they’ll let tell you what he does — keeping Shabbos, kosher, davening… It’s rare that you’ll hear someone say, ‘he’s scrupulously honest in business, he doesn’t speak badly about other people, he loves his neighbour as himself’.
“Not that these aren’t what an Orthodox Jew is — they are just not the perception. I think that’s a terrible shame. If Orthodox Judaism is perceived solely as the ritual element, then I think young Jews are not going to be that interested in it.”
Two great figures help sum up the organisation’s outlook. One, he says, is the Vilna Gaon, who says “the essence of Judaism is character development — being the best person you can be. The other is Gandhi, who says ‘Be the change that you want to make in the world’.”
It is a message that he thinks chimes with many among his target audience. “In a society so focused on success, I think young Jews are wondering, what does it mean to be a good person? And in a world with so many problems, they are asking how to be part of the solution.”
To further tikkun olam, the group, for example, encourages regular visits to help prepare and serve food at a local homeless shelter. “I feel we are living in a society which is incredibly accepting of Jews,” he says. “We owe a lot to our society and have a responsi- bility to give back. Appreciating what has been done for you is a Jewish character trait, which we need not just to educate people about but to get them to practise.”
Self-improvement is the focus of classes about “Living in the Moment” or weekends away on “Inner Peace”. These are titles that could have just as well come out of any guide to alternative spirituality — but then, Rabbi Rosenblatt says, “we have to appeal to a new generation”.
He recalls seeing an article once about a seminar given by the Dalai Lama in New York where half the audience was Jewish. “Somebody asked him ‘Why are you trying to reach out to Jews?’ He said, ‘I’m not, I’m trying to provide people with an understanding of spirituality, and if Judaism was doing that, they wouldn’t be coming to me’.”
Cliff Solomons, a 37-year-old estate agent from Wembley, Middlesex, likes Tikun’s emphasis on practical lessons “you can carry into your daily life” rather than the “Avraham-says” variety. “I work in the West End, so it’s an effort to go,” he says. “But I make it a priority. It’s probably my only Jewish exposure all week.”
Another student, Shira Zadikov, 24, an investment bank worker originally from South Africa who now lives in Golders Green, says Tikun is big on yishuv adat, learning to settle your mind. “They believe that if your mind is calm, and not confused by outside factors, and you can take from the wisdom within, you can come to better decisions,” she says.
Tikun’s unconventional setting is undoubtedly an attraction. Café Mai Yim, which retains much of the original pub’s fittings, is run as an independent enterprise where you can snack, lunch or dine. But it is also a place where students can relax before or after classes at the adjoining Tikun rooms.
Rabbi Rosenblatt launched Tikun with a former Aish colleague, Dean Kaye, an Ilford-raised solicitor who gave up the law to become a full-time Jewish educator. Although Tikun retains links with the founder of the international Aish movement, Rabbi Noah Weinberg, it is “has no affiliation with Aish UK, as our focuses are different”, Rabbi Rosenblatt says. Of his decision to part company with the British branch, he will comment only: “It’s not my place to compare ourselves to other great organisations, but if people understand what Tikun is, they will understand why we are different.”
For Shira Zadikov, Tikun offers a “less pressurised” learning environment than other groups may do. While she calls herself an “observant Jew” who keeps Shabbat, she has taken less religious friends along — “and they are not looked down on because of their religious level”, she says. “What Tikun is trying to teach is wisdom. I wouldn’t call them [Tikun] a kiruv, an outreach group. They are not trying to mould us in a way they believe is right. I think they want people to think — and come to their own conclusions.”
Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt ( left) and Dean Kaye at the headquarters of their new educational venture, Tikun, in Golders Green