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

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - BY SI­MON ROCKER

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.”

PHOTO: JOHN RIFKIN

Rabbi Shaul Rosen­blatt ( left) and Dean Kaye at the head­quar­ters of their new ed­u­ca­tional ven­ture, Tikun, in Gold­ers Green

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