I hesitate to say much about last night’s Jewish Salons event in Vienna since I aim to have a video up tomorrow that will give you a better impression than words ever could, but — aside from noting the four-hour assault on my lungs from all the cigarette smoke — I will offer this: Having been to my share of so-called Jewish "culture" events — readings, concerts, downtown Seders, what have you — I found last night to be among the most substantive. Styled as a Viennese coffee klatch, participants were given questions to discuss relating to freedom and rules, and by and large that’s just what they did. It was the kind of cross-cultural exchange to which we all frequently pay lip service, but rarely go out and create: serious, engaging, and — judging from the conversations conducted in English (there were a few, thankfully) — interesting.
I should note that the event was by invitation only, so participants were hand-picked (presumably in part on the basis of who would be enjoy that kind of thing). And generally, sitting around discussing esoteric philosophy while sipping coffee and puffing on Gauloises is, more or less by definition, elitist. At least one participant was good enough to point this out in the final round-up.
But as a broad-based means of Jewish engagement, which is often how the avatars of "Jewish culture" present themselves ("This is the only way to reach the kids today!"), I’m skeptical of the coffee house model. As a forum for a smart discussion, though, I haven’t recently seen a better one.
Anyway, video comes tomorrow hopefully, so you can judge for yourselves.