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My Jewish London

Interfaith Voices

F&BF Communications

19 / 06 / 18

This month’s Interfaith Voices celebrates Pride Month, with the theme ‘Taking pride in my faith’. In this edition Searle Kochberg provides an insight to what it is like to be a Gay Jewish man in London. Through his documentary film, that he has included within his blog, he walks us through his history, exploring his identity through intertwining threads of memories that were forged in the streets of London.

Searle making visible his Jewish identity by pointing to the Mezuzah on the door frame of his home in Swiss Cottage. The Mezuzah (a small wooden box) contains a scroll of Jewish text blessing the home.

My story as a Progressive Gay Jew is one where ‘Jewish’ social action plays a fundamental role. How things knit together for me is through the concept of ‘Tikkun Olam’ – Hebrew for ‘repairing of the world’, an aspiration in Judaism to behave and act constructively and beneficially. Quoting Jill Jacobs, US Rabbi, ‘In our conception, this manifestation of divinity will not require the elimination of other means of religious worship, but rather the establishment of Godly qualities throughout the world’ (2007).

I am currently pursuing a practical film PhD in documentary film and Jewish identity in London. In my film, I am but one of seven Gay Jewish men who tell their own stories, examine their identities, over a series of films. In real time, miked and filmed as they walk, they talk about their relationships, their negotiation of religious and ethnic identities, on the streets of London.

Despite trends toward assimilation in the UK, there is evidence to suggest that for reasons to do with self-identification as ”other”, Jewish Londoners continue to have a heightened awareness of where they are within the public realm, whether they are religious or not (quote by Professor Laura Vaughan (UCL) to me, 2012).  This is doubly true for Gay Jews, inhabiting a public space where identities are both ‘asserted and “under threat”’ where ‘subjects can come to cite themselves in recognised as well as unpredictable ways’ as Valerie Hey points out (2006: 452).

If the traditional film/ TV documentary about London Jewish life tends to focus on the stereotypical “authentic” (after Boyarin 1993: 693-725) religious and ethnic North London enclaves and ‘safe’ interior spaces like the synagogue and the private home, my film work focuses on street identity of London Gay Jewish men across London.

Searle in Fitzrovia walking the streets where his Jewish family has its historic roots in the ‘Jewish’ rag trade.

My working method as a documentary film maker is to work with long tracking shots capturing persons on camera walking and talking. In the film that you can watch below, you will see how the onscreen me negotiates his Gay Jewish self in the glare of the city and the camera that records him. What transpires is a view of a religious, ethnic and gay identity that is in essence geography-as-personal history, to quote one of the other participants in the film series. Here, negotiated in front of the camera, are intersecting elements of identity that manifest sometimes as abstracted thoughts triggered by the location, and sometimes as more concrete site-specific gay and Jewish identities forged in the particular streets of London.

Negotiated in front of the camera, are “intersectional” identities such as Gay, Jewish, religious/ethnic, visible/invisible, assimilated/minority. They play off one another in real time, in the there-and-then act of assembling on-screen tales of gay Jewish London.

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