Queering the Bible in London

How the Radical Jewish Traveler discovered the diversity of London Jewish life.

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I knew I only had five days in London, one of the most exciting cities in the world. What I learned after my whirlwind tour of contemporary London Jewish life is that the city is also one of the most exciting Jewish cities in the world.

Diverse Dinner

I landed on a Friday just in time for Shabbat with Wandering Jews, a Jewish non-institution that brings young, intelligentsia types together once a month, always in a different home, to celebrate Shabbat. Organized and energized by Naomi Soetendorp, recently named one of 40 British Jews under 40 to watch, Wandering Jews has two core philosophies: 1) that it is not an institution and therefore does not take money from anyone, and 2) that house rules apply. One month, London’s Jews may wander to the swanky flat of an observant stockbroker, who hosts a traditional mincha and ma’ariv service before dinner. Another night, WJ might sit on the floor eating latkes and spinning dreidels. This time, we wandered to the beautiful, split-level townhome of Ali Bodin Saphir, located right in the middle of London.
london
After a potluck vegetarian meal everyone was invited to share a reading related to the theme of connecting with your Jewishness. I shared my favorite passages from Martin Buber’s I-Thou. Poets and playwrights read, musicians and singers sang (in this case, in French, because of course this was a multi-culti, multi-lingual, pan-European, American expat, Israeli, British group of Jews), and several people told stories about their alienation from or connection to contemporary Jewish life.

It was at Wandering Jews that I finally met the fabulous Mekella Bromberg, assistant director of London’s Jewish Book Festival and the person who brought me to London to present the book I recently co-edited, Torah Queeries.

During the dinner, I received an unexpected phone call, from the BBC World Service, which wanted me on a Sunday morning radio show to talk about queer interpretations of the Bible. Queer Bible on BBC World Service? How odd and exciting. I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous. The only other time I had been on Sunday morning talk radio was in 2002, when I was invited to do a program about my book Queer Jews (do you notice a theme?).

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Dr. David Shneer, a co-founder of Jewish Mosaic (now Keshet), is a professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and director of the Program in Jewish Studies there. His work concentrates on modern Jewish culture, Soviet Jewish history, and Jews and sexuality.

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