English Suburbia, Judaica, and (not quite) Belonging

As life’s egg timer gathers speed I notice how I increasingly return to places that once mattered a great deal to me, places where nostalgia and the quest for elusive identity collide. I first came to Golders Green as a child, driven by a powerful urge to buy Jewish books. It was winter, the sun already set. I was timid and shy and spent a long time before I dared enter the shimmering delights of Jerusalem the Golden, as poignant to me as a pilgrimage. Hebrew letters danced on the shelves, black fire on white fire, surrounded by objects of holiness, metal lions of Judah and records of biblical melody, prayer shawls of snug wool and velvet caps. Over the years I returned often to Golders Green, according to the ebbs and flows of my Judaism. At times I came in summer, when the side streets were fragrant with honeysuckle, an English land of milk and honey, of strawberries and cream. Arts and Craft houses with lawns as delicate as Japanese temple gardens. I walk alone. No one notices me. Only I hear my voice. The essence of the area nourishes my soul, a diet of nostalgia and longing, imagination and dreams, a pilgrimage to the place where English suburbia and Jewishness meet.

I have often been a lonely man,  the peripheral and invisible child in the school yard, the melancholic lone traveller, never having more than a few friends, never belonging to a group. I have never truly fitted in anywhere, there is no slot for my shaped peg, and this is my fate too in matters of my faith. I do not fit snugly into the threads upon threads that make up community. When I attend synagogue, my experience is to sit at the back, envious of those who belong confidently at the front. I seldom go now. Marriage saved me. The burning, itching, agonising need to belong has subsided into a bitter-sweet undercurrent, a place to dip my toes when yearning takes hold, but not a place to linger. Yet, in the manner of a restless ghost, my solitary walks often return to Golders Green. I buy myself things to remind myself of the days I spent living in Israel, five years of bright blue, of olive green, of dusty yellow. Osem soup mix, a jar of powdery Elite coffee, a newspaper. Little objects, totems of belonging. One of the places I sometimes frequent is Carmelli’s, a place of fragrant yeasty warmth, comforting food, melting cheese, outrageous cakes. The original work is for sale at https://www.artfinder.com/product/golders-green-london/

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