Literally, another’s world. Sometimes called Yene Velt, Another world. It’s the back of beyond, the middle of nowhere, out in the sticks.
This blog will explore what it’s like to live a Jewish life outside those well-known postcodes of London and Manchester, to keep shabbes and kosher in a rural English setting. And, contrariwise, to describe that rural English setting through the eyes of an urban English Jew.
Here’s an introduction.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
Meet a frum Jew at a Simchah. Tell him that, despite appearances, you’re observant, you keep shabbes and kosher. He wants to know where you live and where you go to Shul? Tell him you don’t live in London and he wants to know Manchester or Gateshead? Tell him you live in the country and he furls his brow and thinks hard.
“Bournemouth?”, he asks hesitantly.
First a pause as he turns this over in his mind, then finally a deep, satisfied, sigh.
“Aaaah. I’ve got it! Luton” (this last word exhaled triumphantly)
“Actually, no. Although Luton is in Bedfordshire, and it has a shul and a small community, it’s in the south-west of the county. I live in North-East Bedfordshire, in the Wolds”
“Yes, sort of”.
The conversation then turns to what do we do for Shabbes, where do we get kosher food, and isn’t there a lot of antisemitism? Short questions requiring long answers. We sit down, he passes me a schnapps, I accept it. He offers me a cracker with some herring, I decline it. I tell him I have been a vegetarian for over 50 years. Now his preliminary diagnosis is confirmed: I really am, certifiably, meshuggeh. But at least he doesn’t ask where I buy my meat.
I explain I am a lawyer, that I was born and raised in London, that for many years I lived within a mile or two of Golders Green, that I went to shul and leined from the Sefer Torah every Shabbes, went to Shacharis every morning, sometimes (if I could get out of the office) to Minchah and Ma’ariv as well. However, I always wanted to keep livestock and grow fruit and vegetables.
“Why should you be surprised?” I ask him, “My great-grandfather was a horsebreeder and mushroom-grower near Lomza. My parents’ chevra went to Eretz Yisroel and founded an agricultural kibbutz”.
I add that eight years ago we sold the family home in the insulated bubble that is North-West London, and bought a house in the country with a few acres. We keep goats and sheep, geese, chickens, ducks and bees. We grow all our own fruit and vegetables (except lemons, bananas and the occasional avocado) and produce milk and cheese. This Rosh Hashanah for the first time we had our own honey. We have surpluses, some of which we sell, some we give away. We rescued some derelict outbuildings and have created seven external guest bedrooms, each with shower and toilet ensuite. We have 2 Sifrei Torah and an Aron Kodesh to house them. 8 or 10 times each year we invite friends to make a minyan on a shabbes or a yom tov. Sometimes we let the place out to groups.
He is silent for a long time, then he asks softly:
“And for a mikveh?”
“We have a deep pond at the end of the vegetable garden”
(We also have a swimming pool, but out of modesty I don’t mention it)