Ziek Gelkoff
Living it up in London

The Universe of Jewish Events in London

Photo Credit Blake Ezra Photography, image taken at the Londoner Super Boutique Hotel

Son of a dad from Hackney, London and a mum from Hollywood LA, I am an Israeli, I was born in Israel and lived in Israel until I was 18 years old. I am a kibbutznik.

Having lived in NYC and travelled all over the far east, Europe and North Africa I am now in London, one of the most exciting multicultural cities in the world. Working as a chef in my early years has exposed me to some of the most luxurious hotels and ways of life in London, it was just all so awe inspiring; the canapés, sommeliers, butlers, afternoon teas and yes, the huge bills! The level of professionalism which frankly is something I have never experienced in Israel was completely inspiring. Standards are standards, and no half measures in the establishments I was working in.

I have arrived in London for the first time in 2003, when I started my training as a chef. I have gradually realized I wanted to become my own boss and wanted to further my education before starting my project.

I went off and studied at Queen Mary University of London in Business Management. By this time, I have already met my sweetheart (via Jdate!), who was a student at Mountview Academy of Arts, the Leading UK school in Musical Theatre. Suited me just fine, I love music and musicals so why not, right?

One of the first things that struck me about Jews in the UK when I first got here was that they were, well different. Jews celebrating Christmas? This is not something I have ever seen before arriving here, it took a while to learn to distinguish between the Jewish Brit and the non-Jew.

Fast track 5 years later and I have now got back into catering, this time with my own Kosher catering company (Shuka Catering), and my wife head of XS SHOWBAND ( We have simultaneously opened two companies that operated in the events industry, and of course worked together on many of our events, supplying both food and music. It was the perfect combination, two suppliers offering competitive rates and superior coordination all in one by having a client book both our services for their event. Then COVID hit, and our second baby arrived, it was time to park the catering and focus solely on the band. Now this business is a band at its core and also an events planner, which means we get very busy with all sorts of events all round the UK, Europe and beyond.

The Jewish Events industry in the UK is incredibly competitive. It is quite a closed market in the sense that there are a select few suppliers who have gained the trust of the community and are succeeding within the industry while a row of businesses standing on the outside trying to break in. We were lucky to break in very quickly, and thankfully this has been our main income ever since.

The Jewish weddings are lucrative, the cost per head is high compared to some of the other cultures and perhaps more than anything, it is the standard expected of the suppliers to provide that is very high. You may say this is the result of the ‘demanding Jewish’ clientele, but I would argue it is a positive, it is proof of thinking, proactive and inquisitive clients who are holding their suppliers to account. The Jewish traditions and religion are also of course playing a driving force in the industry, the Simcha- the Mitzvah of being happy for a celebration. The lively Jewish crowds and the traditional Simcha dances have shaped the UK Jewish weddings into dynamic, fast paced schedules with photographers popping in and out of the party like stick puppets, flashing, shouting calling; Toast Masters rushing people along endless beautiful buffets and canapé receptions. It is a beautiful and very energetic world!

Working alongside Jewish suppliers as well as non-Jews who work at these events and speaking with them, I consistently get the same message: Jewish weddings are the hardest to work at, the longest hours and the most demanding, but also by far the most rewarding and enjoyable events to be working at. On most occasions the people I speak to, know I am Jewish so perhaps they aren’t always being the most honest but I have rarely got antisemitic vibes. That said, through chitchat in the Green room or over-hearing catering staff I have often heard the old prejudiced views- Jews are rich, Jews are smart, Jews are stingy. In fact, I had fired a waiter once for making a racist comment, he called one of our staff an Ugly Jewish girl. To my great surprise my head waiter agreed with the waiter and said Jewish women are ugly (my shoulders shrugged, my eyeballs rolled). He didn’t even mean to offend, he just reported his own view (my shoulders shrugged, again, no sign of light). I was shocked. How can anyone say such a thing?! I would have never said that about his country of origin and definitely not to his face. I suppose it is also just human nature, someone believes something and they feel it is right to be honest about their opinion. However, there is an acceptable way to speak and there is a way that may be deemed offensive or rude and I would always opt for alternative, civilized, polite communication and try not to offend anyone. Besides I think we can all agree Jewish women are definitely beautiful!

Trying to unpack these events as I write these words, I must say, I am not the shrewdest writer and hardly an academic, but I like to think my opinion counts. I am not one to believe Jews are the most hated people on the planet, though I won’t deny the existence of antisemitism. Bigoted opinions and prejudice speech is commonplace among some factions. Indeed, I would argue the most prejudice speech is commonly heard in kitchens and catering staff rooms, in the form of jokes usually. My experience from working in such environments reminds me of some scenes from Borat, where ignorance and a primitive vocabulary often shape the most terrible images of Jews and Israel (and certainly other minorities too).

I don’t feel hard-done-by, I consider myself privileged, I was born into an era of freedom and democracy. My grandparents (and their families) have suffered the burden of Nazism, while I live in a country where I can demonstrate as an Israel supporter in Kensington, by the Israeli embassy, without fear or punishment.

Working in events is one of the most exciting jobs there is, and there is always plenty of gossip in our circles. The industry is competitive and running a business is extremely demanding, partners fallout with each other and become enemies, and rivalries play out often in real time during an event. Even ‘spite businesses’ are formed and though it might be a term coined on ‘Curb’, it is quite true that these come into existence in our little sandbox of Jewish melodrama.

I look forward to sharing more stories from London and insight into our vibrant industry of events. Thank you for reading,

About the Author
Ziek Gelkoff is an Israeli, he married into a Jewish English family and is the co founder of XS Showband, one of the UK's leading music bands today. He believes he has a unique stand point that includes both the Israeli and the English Jewish world view. The events industry is always a vibrant source of stories and culture and it would be great to share some of his experience and insight with other Jews, may they be Israeli, American or English.
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