Berlin, Channuka: Who is going frum?

This Chanukkah I have decided to treat myself to a special Chanukkah concert at the Green Salon, der Grüne Salon, the beautiful and recently renovated lounge room, which is a part of the stately Volksbühne, the „People theatre“ in Berlin’s Mitte.

It is the 6th of December 2010, a white Chanukkah. I walk down the Rosa Luxemburg st., one of the few streets in East Berlin named after a prominent Communist that has retained its name, following the reunification and I am excited; I am going to see Rabbi Rothschild again!

About a month ago, I saw him for the first time in flesh. It was during the most successful, well attended, intensive and heart warming Limmud day in the Jewish community centre on the Fasanenstreet. I have heard of his disputed reputation and controversal British homour before, all of which made me even more curious. We discussed conversion and what makes one a Jew and or Jewish, what this may mean in Germany and why there are some people who know better than others. As for a person who introduces himself as a „theologian, philosopher, writer, poet, songwriter, historian, longtime Limmudnik, father, taxpayer, optimistic cynic and cynical optimist“, the talk made much sense and was inspiring. At the end of the day Rabbi Rothschild and Max Doehlemann (AKA The Minyan Boys) played upstairs to the main hall. It is hard to fill in such a big space, particularly after a day of so many ‘shiurim’, all dealing with various aspects of Judaism – left, right, past, present, future. On top of that, a band of middle-aged men in an almost vacant community centre is not everyones cup of tea choice for a weekend evening.
Though, I was already convinced this guy-Rabbi Rothschild- is someone to follow.

Whether it is for those superbs, obstrusive lyrics: „Shabbes morning blues, man… I’ve got the Shabbes morning blues… it’s all them blooming jews…“ , a song telling the story of a Rabbi who gets up with a hangover after a Shabbat dinner party, cannot give a damn and while ‘the quire in the middle of „Adon Olam“ he has realised that was Talith is upside down, his lovely Yorkshire accent, craggy voice, looks or what he may symbolises for me – a tradition, breaking with and within it. When it continued to the song about cousin Herald „Oj Gewalt, cousin Herald gone frum“, I simply felt I found something I never looked for – ‘Asiti li Rav’ – I found my Rabbi.

Back to the Channukah special. Yes, I was nostalgic. I was happy to sing Maos Zur, see the young girl lighting the 3rd candle on the Chanukkiya and be surrounded by people, who know what Chanukkah means for them. Yes, I was looking forward to the Sufganiyot and I was disappointed when they arrived in their mini version. I was delighted to have finally made it to the Grüne Salon, a fairly intimate space with a 1920s chic, which offers a regular varied program of literature, jazz, swing, tango and chanson. The roots of the Berlin salon culture date back to the late 18th Century. Between Enlightenment and Romanticism, it was primarily Jewish women who conducted them. The famous salonière the late 18 and 19 Century offered more than a domestic space for an intellectual exchange. It was a place for Jews and Christians to sit at the tea tables, side by side. They were criticised as a symptom of failing Jewish tradition or welcomed as a phenomenon of emancipation and acculturation. However, they were highly important in the process of women’s emancipation and Jewish integration in Germany. Since the mid -1990s, Berlin experiences a revival of the salon culture in Berlin and The Grüne Salon was part of this tradition revived. This time round though, the role of the women, their emancipation and integration of Jews in Germany in 2010 seem archaic. At least for my generation (if I may speak on anyones behalf), they are simply self evident.

„Shkoyach“ was the name of the concert. „Shkoyach“ comes from is often said at the conclusion of a Devar Torah or Aliyah at a service in the synagogue. It is actually a mashed together version from Hebrew of Yasher Koach, literally, “May your strength be straightened.”
Loosely translated as “Way to go,” or “More power to ya”! This is just another great example for The Minyan Boys homour; Singing this muttered often murmered almost gibberish accepted phrase on Mordechai Ben David’s meldoy of „Maschiach“ (Ani Maamin, Ani maamin beEmunah shlemah“„Mashiach, Mashiach, Maschiach Oy Oy Oy Oyoyoi“). Distancing, while still embracing tradition. The evening was nicely composed by different performers from the actor Karsten Troyke, who sang and read in Jiddish, through texts by Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler carried out by the Soprano singer Andrea Chudak and to the fantastic jazzi moments with Max Doehlemann.

A lovely evening with a mixed crowd of outed jews and others, of traditon and unorthodoxy – what can I say – „Yasher Koach“, for many more to come!
Atalya Laufer