Tab Tries: J-Soc
JAMES MITCHELL is invited along for dinner at the Cambridge University Jewish Society and just about manages not to offend.
A good friend invited me to the Jewish society (J-Soc) last week for their Friday night dinner with the intention of getting the society and their upcoming ball some publicity in the Tab.
To be frank, I didn’t know what to expect and I was a bit worried. I know very little about Jewish culture and traditions. Moreover, I am aware that I lack cultural sensitivity and am prone to causing (accidental) offence as a result. There have been times when I have made Prince Phillip appear as diplomatic as Ban Ki Moon. However, I rarely have anything better to do on a Friday night and I was guaranteed some good kosher food.
I was also a bit concerned that the dinner would give me precious little to write about. How wrong I was.
My first encounter in the Jewish synagogue cum dining hall was a little awkward. I was introduced to one of the female members of the society and I instinctively leaned in for a friendly kiss only to have her recoil in horror. My host swiftly assured that it wasn’t because she found me physically repulsive – she told me that for some orthodox Jews it is considered improper to have close physical contact with a strange man prior to marriage. For all I know, this may be utter nonsense and she was just trying to be kind, but I took heed of her advice. So when I was introduced to another female member, I stood well back, leaning away and with my arms firmly crossed – but this time the girl found my reserve amusing and came forward to kiss me on the cheek.
It did occur to me then that there should be some sort of traffic light system to let the uninitiated know when it’s safe to make an approach.
None of this helped to calm my nerves. My initial reservations about gate crashing a Jewish dinner seemed justified. However things quickly settled down and, despite my earlier faux pas, I was made to feel most welcome. The fact that I wasn’t Jewish was apparently of no consequence. My host told me (no doubt in jest) that having a gentile interloper was far less of a talking point than a Jew arriving from South London.
In many ways, J-Soc struck me as being like one of these structured, reality shows. The evening’s experience would not have been out of place on ITV3, with everyone having been briefed on each other’s social lives. Everybody seemed to have a principal role to play – there were no extras or bit part players. With the ex Tab Editor and ex Union President all affiliates, it’s also easy to understand one member’s bold assertion that “everyone’s a BNOC in J-Soc”.
J-Soc is a friendly club with a packed and diverse social calendar. One of the promoted events that caught my eye was a “Booze for Jews on a Cruise”, which I understand is an annual function which needs no further explanation. As aforementioned, the Society has an annual ball, which this term is themed “The Amazon”, where two cultures will no doubt collide in spectacular form come the 10th March. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased here before the deadline this Sunday. I’m told it promises to be a brilliant evening and is of course open to all (I’ve got my ticket). On the stage, J-Soc is also putting on its own version of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ later this term. In fact, I was invited to audition but I declined. If my non-jewishness was not an obstacle, then my woeful absence of any acting talent most certainly would be.
All in all, I had a lovely evening. The best of many good things about J-Soc is the sense of belonging – and even for a Surrey-born atheist like me with no sense of community, I felt completely at home in what was predominantly a secular, welcoming environment.
Making my exit at the end of a hugely enjoyable evening, I started to push through a door on the left side of building, until someone shouted, “Hey – you’re not supposed to use that door!”
Oh dear, I thought. I’ve clearly transgressed some ancient Jewish synagogue rule.
“I am so sorry” I replied “Are you not allowed to use the left door on the Sabbath?”
“Er, no”, came the reply, “it only opens from the other side”.