I was a founding member of Jewdas.
aka PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF HACKNEY.
[Author’s Note: for those not in the know… Potential future British Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn, head of the British Labour Party, attended a Passover seder run by Jewdas, a Jewish anarchic collective. A proJewish response by Corbyn to concerns over comments around an East London mural by Mear One, depicting allusions to a elitist world power manipulation and the ongoing saga of AntiSemitism and AntiZionism within the Labour party. Many say the mural was blatantly Anti-semitic.]
It was 2005 at an art rave, called PunkPurim.
The inaugural Jewdas gig.
I recall seeing their web logo for the gig…
a doctored poster of the Lubavitcher Rebbe smoking a spliff.
What the hell?
An incredible thing happened…
In a multifloored, multilevelled art squat on Cannon Street Row, East London (now demolished and gentrified),
the heart of the Jewish East End of London still pulsed!
I’d escaped my sterile Jewish suburbia of North West London.
The emptiness. The screaming neuroticism. The latent bullying.
All faded away that very night.
I was live wall painting…huge interactive murals and collages in a studio room…
open freestyle art making…
meeting peers…discussing exciting ideas about art.
I met friends such as Sky who strolled in.
She’s just released an incredible movie “Even When I Fall.”
Downstairs live bands screamed, electronic music shook the floors amidst a sweaty Jewish mosh pit.
A huge mass of people, all squashed together like gefilte fish in a jar. A legendary squat party.
My studio space had that pungent stench of vinyl paint. So only a select few dare enter.
I was using cheap oil paints procured from a local hardware store on Bethnal Green Road
(where I lived with 2 jewish Australian girls off Brick Lane) and was also using aerosol sprays in a confined space.
Not so clever, but we were buzzing. And it was amazing.
Freedom! Being Jewish was cool!
No longer an embarrassment.
The vibe was so alive!
Noch! I was even showing some of my experimental movies in the room next door!
A few people even sat and watched the entire movie…my dystopian epic “the Dream Garden”…
No longer was I just alone, an outsider…
this shy young man, a young artist…
The regular abusive Jewish communal comments I received, wounds still scarred on my heart:
Why, do you work alone?
Don’t you wanna get a proper job?
How then…do you make a living?
Constantly pecked at, or mocked or flatly just ignored…all my life.
I finally had found a place to belong and express myself.
My grandfather had began in the family delicatessen business, on the very same street as the squat of PunkPurim. Cannon Street Row. Whitechapel.
Like 50 years earlier he was trading, right there, all the smoked salmon and shmaltz herring.
It was a special time. I went on in my life to explore the history of East End Jewry in beautiful depth.
We all went on from there.
A whole community sprung from that first gig. Evolving into Moishe House chevrei, huge pot luck vegetarian friday night dinners, Grassroots Jews, many more purim parties and third seders.
All still going. I had found Jewish creative friends and they were cool too!
Somehow, through God’s mercy, we’d all been slung into the same space. Magnetised and radicalised.
I was like the artist in residence…in a pure playground of interactive creativity. I could finally express myself freely as I liked.
My theatrical alter ego Rodney the Nebbuch was born. Live at an open mike gig in Willesden Green late one eve. Huge themed art parties bloomed, full of debates, alternative torah, lounge room jams, comedy shows, live art workshops. so much…
I remember with fondness all dancing in a defiled temple Chanuka party in Dalston…
Or bouncing in the catacombs under London Bridge tunnels making psychedelic murals with a live poetry+music show.
Or coaching a troupe of dancers to whirl all night long thru Hebrew letter video forms, with an alternative crunching soundscape at Corsica studios in Elephant and Castle.
We were young dreamers. Expressing our Jewish identity in strange unusual corners of London. Spinning across a shadowy metropolis. Underground subcultures in its very essence.
I was also scraping by as a young filmmaker. I was hungry, just surviving making films for Jewish gigs and other communities.
One of my first freelance jobs was filming survivors at the Holocaust Survivors centre in Hendon.
I was struggling. I fell into a crappy youthwork job for a short time.
A youth worker of a central london united shul was being charged with sexual assault of a minor. The managers were desperate for someone to fill in and maintain normality. Somehow they found me.
The only program i recall doing (i hadnt bothered planning anything of course)…i had to think of something on the spot. The kids were restless, bored. eyes rolling. And all 3 of them were about to leave and run around chaotically without purpose.
“Um…,”I said, “does anyone know where aliens appear in the Torah?”
I certainly was clutching at straws. But it got their attention for a few minutes. We had some kind of discussion about beliefs in the doctrine of Alienism and the Jewish approach to UFOs.
I mimed a strange ET spacecraft with my kippa.
The only member of the community who actually did try to befriend me, was this lonely elder sephardi guy, who reeked of acrid perfume.
He said come over for kiddush, he lived on Abbey Road.
Ooh the Beatles, I naively thought.
We arrived at his apartment. I took a sip of his sickly sweet sacrimental wine. And sat there looking around. The guy went out and then re-entered the room dressed only in his undies. I made very a quick exit.
Other than that, there was the rabbi at the shul, a practising dayan. Who got his son a cushy job with Jewish youth. The dayan did invite me only once to his family shabbat dinner. He didn’t know me. And subsequently blacklisted me and sneered at me for years after.
I bleated to him during the main course: dont you think…that halacha is sort of absurd?
Probably not the best topic of conversation to suggest to a dayan, a professor of halacha.
I still believe its absurd as a practicing jew. Being a Jew is absurd…totally absurdist…concerning absurdism.
I did my bit back then. Supporting the minyan in an old East End shteebl The Congregation of Jacob E1. The origin of the brilliant short comic movie “The 10th Man.” Based on a true story. A member of the kehilla was accosted and kidnapped by a rival shul, to make up the minyan at the expense of their rivals.
Times were hard then and now.
This was Jewish life in London for me. Full of weird cobwebs.
There were a few who spoke to me. Some nice Jewish people helped me, they really did.
We made the movie “Ghetto Warriors.” Stories of Jewish East End boxing and a fighting spirit.
And a few others threw me some crumbs off their tax return.
But the essence of all these ideas is a fragmented community. And full, literally full, of excluded people. The excluded seemingly the majority.
I was this outside outsider sewing together some kind of experience.
To be an ethnic Hebrew Ivri is to be “avar,” from another place.
Always in someplace, displaced. Like mitzrayim.
Don’t most of us feel excluded? Gazing at screens.
Society is sour elitism. Trump. Netanyahu. Top cronies in their dyed hair & make up. The zionist dream?
I live here, in the Land. But its run by a bit of an empty institution too.
Like London was.
Who sits on the board…then?
London might be more vibrant now. Havn’t popped in for a while.
I played a role in Jewdas and more. My tales were my Jewish London.
I worked later with the excluded, making movies. I related to them: mental patients, refugees, Roma travellers, young criminals from broken homes.
Strolling past the Mear One mural a few years back on Brick Lane.
I stopped and stared at it on the street. It was vivid. but I felt no Antisemitism off it. No fear. I felt it was provocative, edgy. But shouldn’t art be so? To provoke debate and free thought?
To me the mural speaks about elitism.
There is elitism in the world. Its full of it.
Why do people fear the towers tumbling, and rail against a youthful anarchic spirit?
I certainly don’t support the more recent Jewdas twitter comment.
That Israel is sewage to be disposed of. I have long moved on from Jewdas. I’m much more into recycling myself.
I don’t know which self hating muppet runs the twitter feed @geoffreyjewdas.
Geoffrey Cohen was this weird hidden voice in Jewdas. Of whoever rattled the keyboard on social media. A voice of madness of anonymity. The cry of the absurdities we Jews live in.
Israel needs vision. The place does stink of corruption.
There is plenty of sewage here. I live here. I can take u and show u much open sewage in nature, in Israel.
Israelis recycling? Ain savlanut. bli lachatz bli lachatz motek.
Make the place like Eden? Where we gonna dump the achad pa’ami plastic dear zionists? In Palestine?
Pollution, Gaza, nepotism, cronyism…we got it baby. Hyper jewish style.
Even Yair Netanyahu tweets reptilian control.
A former Chief rabbi, a former PM, a former president all in jail.
A current PM under investigation.
One current MK propping up the Likud was formerly a drug dealing pimp in Bulgaria.
Who’s gonna save us?
Cronyism, corruption, an elitism has twisted Judaism.
And sure the antisemites knife twists in too.
So much so, the equation – what does a Jew =?
A bourgeois life? And perhaps the Torah is mere dressage?
Not all old school Jewdas members represent like that dude playing Geoffrey on twitter. One founding member married an Israeli and lives in the Land. And an original band member who played live at PunkPurim is a young rabbi living in Israel. As do i. This smelly sewage place is home.
We were dumb. We played antisemitism for the joke it is.
We did a silly gag one time.
I went to Hackney shul, formerly on Brenthouse Road off Mare Street. A huge empty underused old shul. I went to the old geezer, the head of the board. Can we do a Jewish art party here for young Jewish artists? They heard the word young Jews…coming to the shul. They got so excited.
They replied…when you coming? Have the place for free.
Hackney was a gorgeous “cathedral” style synagogue, used since 1885. But later all the Jews left Hackney (including my nana Ruth, Sir Alan and Harold Pinter).
A few got left behind.
Eventually evangelist christians came. And dangled a big crucifix in Hackney shul. The end of an era.
I was at a kiddush there one time prior. I had some Jewish mates, filmmakers dotted in studios up the road (not religious or affiliated of course). Jews who had randomly repopulated the East End. I’d walked from Brick Lane for shabbes. Literally at the kiddush, all the people stood like old robots and I saw a big spider scuttle across the soggy crisps.
So somehow some of the Jewdas guys came up with the idea…”Protocols of the elders of Hackney,” for the party. And did a big print run of flyers for the gig.
The Hackney geezers saw it and got proper mad. Understandable.
But we thought, they didn’t see the joke of antisemitism.
Of a few ancient old Jews in raincoats, who got left behind in East London eating soggy crisps…meanwhile secretly plotting world domination. When the rest of the tribe had buggered off and bought large detached estates…in Mill Hill, Radlett and elsewhere in leafy surburbia.
We used comedy satire as a weapon…and were stupid too.
We’d lost the free gig to what would have been an epic art party.
Insidious antisemitism for sure does exist. I sat in SOAS student union some years back…and heard comments about “that Jew Milliband.”
I went for these 2 dudes man. I’m a former amateur boxing champion and prepared to punch anyone if need be.
The original Jewdas crew agreed…evoking the battle against fascists of Cable Street 1936 in many of our East London gigs…one in Cable Street studios come to mind…my live artwork that night…a kaleidoscopic version of Guernica by Picasso.
We need to shift the debate.
The media and the Jewish mainstream leaders are aggrieved Corbyn speaking to young Jews of Jewdas?
When are their voices heard? Let debate flow.
The British Jewish phony leadership is feeling queasy uneasy.
For the first time they wont have a government at their whims. Like a leaping Lord Levy invitation to play a game of tennis with Tony.
In all these swirling eroded, confused views of Jewish identity. Like the 9th plague. The dark is allowed to enter.
Jews are struggling in society…An identity in crisis?
The struggle is around the the moral case for our being.
Why do we exist in society?
We dearly need a healing path. Like the dream healing meditation that can be said during the holy priestly prayer of the Cohenim.
Find prayer, find yourself…as Rebbe Nachman teaches me.
Scream in the woods if you need to.
These were some of my memories of Jewdas. Am I a Judas? As some say on London streets, “U WOT?”
To redefine our vision through the Torah.
Otherwise its more weird pictures and murals placed on us, by us?
Who or what is defining us?
Like the esoteric dark eye of rah of Pharoah, of ancient Egypt.
The Illuminati all seeing eye of Mear One’s mural?
Exodus 10:10 – Pharoah to Moses: “See! There is Rah before you!”
Midrash to Song of Songs 1:12 – Pharoah: “I see through my astrology, a star rising…it’s name is Rah.”
Rah definately aint good. This is our real battle.
Our enemies try put dark visions on us. So we are blinded…so we don’t know how to properly respond…how to heal, how to speak.
A constrained distorted throaty voice of exile, of mitzrayim. The prophet fears his stutter, struggling to articulate.
Peh-sach…the mouth that speaks.
We barely remember what it means to be us.
In the muck…to find gems…our ancient voice of freedom. Justice. Truth.
So we can fully be…more than a mural…and not just be what might have been.