Greetings from London, where I am spending my winter break with my summer chevrusa, Hannah Sassoon. There is something both weird and comforting about seeing Jews living outside of the U.S; this adventure has also been quite the Jewish education-and Limmud hasn't even begun yet.
A few thoughts from a wandering Jew in Briton:
1. There is something really special about walking around a city where you can happen upon structure that are hundreds of years old, and stand in front of graves of people of people who have changed the world (for me personally and/or the world) and be able to think "that person! That person is right there!." There is a real sense of history here. I always find the idea of tradition to be one of the more compelling ones when it comes to my own Jewish practice, and being constantly hit with powerful reminders of how history and tradition have played out has been very moving.
2. It is strange to be in a place where Jews and Judaism are not in the public eye to the extent that they are in the U.S. New York in particular has a culture of Jewishness (I think it was Lenny Bruce who said that anyone residing in New York City is actually Jewish) that means that I feel a certain sense of cultural belonging-and even a sense of authority within that culture-whether it's a random day in March, or Christmastime. Depending on your point of view, this is either a good thing or a very bad thing, but I've never felt that by not celebrating Christmas I was somehow acting less American, the way I feel that elements of Christianity define what it is to be British.
3. Hannah on the Changing of the Guards in front of Buckingham Palace: "This is just like halacha!"
In other words: it is a series of long, intricate rituals meant to bring glory to the monarch. And while we have a sense of the ultimate goal, we don't really know what is going on or why.
Which prompted me to think further (generally a dangerous event): On the one hand, I can't imagine why Brits are ok with their tax pounds going to the royal family, who receive this money as payment for existing. However, the Royal Family and the monarcy are extremely important symbols and figures that represent, and to a certain extent define, a vast British history and culture. It's important to acknowledge and honor their role, but I know that if I were British, I would sometimes want to throw my hands up in frustration and say "I give you all this money; what have you done for me recently?"
Use this metaphor as you will.
Tomorrow we are off to Limmud! If you're there, come to the session on "Reinventing the Yeshiva," Tuesday, December 29th, 7-8:10pm.