Never the twain shall meet
THIS WEEK, I went where few modern Jewish girls have gone before — to east London on a Tuesday night. I gave up my pre-planned Netflix-filled evening to hang with gig-goers in Shoreditch. This was not a typical gig with cheap beer or a long queue. It was a private music love-in at members club Shoreditch House, where diners eat beside a rooftop swimming pool and celebrities warmly embrace their table hosts.
Intrigued and secretly excited by the trendy, I happily accepted the last-minute invite.
But faced with the prospect of venturing away from my usual north-west or even west London haunts, I panicked. I had nothing suitable to wear. I don’t own plaid or denim-ondenim and I like to wear socks with my shoes. Nevertheless, unsuitably dressed-up in black, I picked up my Canadian cousin and made the 30-minute drive east.
We arrived in time for a quick dinner at the rooftop restaurant and were warmly greeted by one “in” friend at the eight-person table. The other diners had already ordered and I parked myself opposite a Sudanese girl chomping on a quinoa salad. It looked appetising, so I ordered the same.
She was interesting — so different to the predictable group of teachers, bankers and lawyers I know. She had bounced from a career in journalism to one of political protest in the fashion industry. “The West imposes their standards in fashion on us, especially countries in the Middle East — don’t you think?” she said, slamming her hand on the table in between bites.
Confused, I thought it best to simply nod and smile. She went on to say that she has now moved to Dubai because she is politically opposed to paying UK taxes.
She paused to ask about my background. She was surprised to learn that I was Jewish and even more surprised to learn that I’m of Iraqi Jewish descent. “So wait, are you an Arab or a Jew?” she pushed, perplexed. “Both?” I suggested. “Well, then you must have a serious problem with what the Israelis are doing in Gaza right now. It’s a prison there.” Oy.
More assimilated friends have often criticised the “Jewish bubble”. They claim that branching out brings access to a world away from Jewish identity and Middle Eastern politics. But in my experience, the opposite is true. I am reluctant to disclose my Jewish background for fear of having to explain and defend the Jewish state for the next 40 minutes. Sometimes it’s too heavy, especially on a rooftop pool-side restaurant in Shoreditch. All I wanted was a night out, or off.
I entertained this girl for another five min- utes before distracting her with my rather terrified cousin’s salad. I wasn’t interested in debate and so turned to the sweet English boy next to me, who had politely ignored the heated conversation going on beside him.
We all headed down to the private gig room on the floor below. Just as I was entranced by the celebrity singer, I was also captivated by the non-Jewish people surrounding me. Until now, I had not rubbed shoulders with a Chinese boy wearing large-rimmed glasses without lenses, or a Jamaican man in a cowboy hat, or an Irish boy with dreadlocks, or a girl from New York with a high-top ponytail dyed blue.
I tried to welcome the world away from north-west London but my cousin pushed back her afro-Jewish hair and dismissed this world of cultivated eccentricity as a complete “bulls*** fest”.
I got my hug off the singer Delilah — who is of English, Cuban, Nigerian and Syrian-Jewish descent — and headed back home.
I put on my pyjamas and turned on my Netflix show.
This weekend, I will meet some of my Jewish friends: teachers, bankers and lawyers. We will snack on sushi at a favourite, and wonderfully apolitical, north-west London haunt, where I will not have to defend, explain or define my cultural identity over dinner — and I could not be more secretly excited.
I could not be more excited by sushi