If it feels like it’s taken me awhile to get started in London, blame Stephanie Oxner — or whoever the person actually is who impersonated a 29-year-old nurse and bilked me out of a good deal of money in a Craigslist apartment scam.
But as I’ve spent about a week bouncing around from hotel to friend’s couch to hotel again, I’ve also managed to fit in a good deal of meetings — it’s been a week that’s served as a great introduction to London’s rich and varied Jewish life.
It’s been almost three months since I left Paris, with its 300,000 Jews. London, with 200,000 Jews that constitute the lion’s share of the U.K.’s 250,000, is the first Jewish community that rivals that city’s in terms of scope and influence I’ve seen in quite some time.
After one day of letting myself freak out about housing, I dove headfirst into what London Jewish life has to offer.
I started my day at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, which occupies Ivy House, the former home of ballerina Anna Pavlova. The center is located in Golders Green, the area of northwest London that is the city’s Jewish hub, with a host of kosher restaurants and Jewish-themed shops.
At the center, I met with Judy Trotter, the organization’s education director — and another attendee of that Avignon conference that has proved to be a wealth of story ideas. Trotter’s explanation of the work the center does was intriguing, but I was especially fascinated by my meeting with Laurence Field, who runs the LJCC’s youth efforts, known as Fusion.
Field’s program is just three years old, but it already boasts an impressive three-pronged approach: in-house programs, exported school assemblies and partnerships with a variety of other Jewish organizations in London that cover everything from drug addiction in Orthodox teens to artistic programs for terminally ill Jewish children.
After I met with Trotter, Field and their colleagues, I swung down to the City of London, the metropolis’s financial heart. There I popped into the Chabad sukkah set up in New Street Square, an area of the city that feels right out of Lower Manhattan. After I shook the lulav and etrog and mingled with oligarchs, rabbis and businessmen, I was able to visit the offices of the Jewish Chronicle, London’s incredible weekly Jewish newspaper.
My night was busy, too. I met up with my friend Judith Flacks for a drink in Camden Town. Jude studied abroad at Penn State my third year there, and she’s now the developing JSocs — that’s "Jewish societies" — officer for the Union of Jewish Students, the umbrella organization that oversees JSocs at dozens of U.K. universities. Jude was able to fill me in on all the emerging campus issues — everything from the fraternity culture emerging at Nottingham to St. Andrews to how JSocs are dealing with the thorny issue of how to extricate Jewish cultural activities from the complicated issue of Israeli political activism.
I’m confident that there are a host of engaging Jewish stories to tell from the U.K.
And now that Stephanie Oxner had been dealt with and my housing situation is a little more secure, I’m back on track and ready to hit the ground running.
Stay tuned as I continue to explore.