Being in Ethiopia, after dreaming of visiting the country for years, was wonderful. Being there in the company of 20 loquacious Londoners of various Jewish persuasions was even better: a journey of constant dialogue and learning. With Rabbi Sybil Sheridan of West London Synagogue and Abye Tilahun Lakew of local Jacaranda Tours as our guides, we saw vast stretches of the country’s north.
It’s an odyssey through the first half of the 20th century, an unreliable memoir and a very personal state-of-the-(German) nation allegory – and that’s just Günter Grass’s epic novel. Now Kneehigh Theatre’s powerhouse of creatives stages their collective vision of the tale of Oskar, a man-child who refuses to grow up in “this despicable age”, in a corrupt and ugly world; choosing instead to remain inside the body of a three-year-old – if not the mind – for he’s a transgressive and over-sexed infant.
The eight-day tour of Andalusia in November 2017 was my fourth trip with Jewish Renaissance in the past six years. As in the previous three, I felt immediately at ease with the other members of the group who were friendly and whose outlook I shared.
Like all JR tours Andalusia was a combination of Jewish sites and historic places of interest. We were fortunate to be joined on our first two days in Seville by Moises Hassan, an eminent scholar of Jewish-Spanish history, who gave us a crash course. He told us about the place of the Jews, whose expulsion or murder by the Inquisition at the end of the 14th century ended Jewish presence in Spain. Today there are only 100 Jews in Seville and none at all in Cordoba, two significant pre-Inquisition Jewish communities.
Israel Zangwill, a ferociously intelligent, passionate champion of multiculturalism, escaped poverty in London’s East End thanks in part to his education at the Jews’ Free School, where he also subsequently taught for a time. He went on to become a writer, political thinker and activist. He was the first to use the phrase ‘the melting pot’ to describe what he also calls ‘God’s crucible’ – America – in this play, endorsed enthusiastically and vocally by then US president Theodore Roosevelt at its 1908 premiere in New York. Now Bitter Pill Theatre produces the first UK revival of The Melting Pot since 1938.