Aug 28 2020
Govanhill, in the southern district of Glasgow, is perhaps the closest inter-war Scotland to Yiddish-speaking Europe.
With its rows of red brick Romanian shops and Polish bars, it is the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the country, which is also home to other Eastern European populations, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
The neighborhood is set to welcome a notable new Jewish neighbor: a Yiddish-language, gay-friendly kosher cafe run by self-proclaimed Jewish anarchists. At Pink Peacock, customers will “pay what they can.”
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“We are filling a gap and showing them that there is a Jewish space where you can be loud and queer and you are welcome,” said Morgan Holleb, 31, who, along with co-founder Joe Isaac, 21, hopes the restaurant will become a hub of Yiddish and LGBTQ activity in Glasgow.
Customers will be informed of the “break-even price” of the food they have ordered, “and they can pay either side down to zero.”
“The idea of the project is to bring food and community to people in an accessible and affordable way,” said Morgan, a Chicago native who moved to Scotland’s largest city ago. two years.
Holleb and Isaac are negotiating a lease and say they hope to open the cafe “between the Jewish New Year and the Goyish New Year.”
The model behind the cafe has already been given a test drive: The Pink Peacock has taken hold in recent months by delivering food packages to the local community from the couple’s kitchen, which has been transformed into an industrial scale production line for pastries and fried foods. Holleb and Isaac delivered ‘bread baskets’ containing bagels and challah, as well as traditional Ashkenazi dishes such as knishes, to some 40 to 50 Glasgow households in need due to the coronavirus pandemic every week. . Most of them were not Jews.
When the cafe officially opens, it will feature the certified vegan, kosher, and halal staples from the Ashkenazi cookbook, as well as dishes that Holleb and Isaac say have been “forgotten” in the fat pages of Jewish culinary history. , from outside the ‘classic Polish, Belarusian and Ukrainian cuisines.
Amid the clatter of pots and pans, the founders plan to hold conferences on revolutionary and social themes.
“I hope,” said Holleb, who is transgender and published author on LGBTQ + issues, “people will hear that we are anarchists and say, ‘Oh, that’s anarchism, I thought anarchism meant chaos and shattering windows. “
“Well,” he added with a chuckle, “sometimes that means breaking windows, but sometimes that means feeding people for free.”
The pink peacock, however, is not only a revolutionary concept, it is also a pioneering initiative in the Scottish Jewish landscape – its first physical space for Yiddish in decades. The owners are integrating Yiddish into the cafe’s website and want the restaurant “to be a Yiddish learning space”, equipped with Yiddish dictionaries and full of lectures, “so that people can practice their Yiddish”.
They are also at the forefront of developing a “Yiddish Summer Program” – details to be determined – for learners and Yiddishists.
The cafe already has a strong social media presence and a bilingual website topped with a brilliantly hand-drawn bird icon. Holleb and Isaac tweet in Yiddish (a rarity among traditional Yiddish institutions, which they condemn as “conservative” in their approach to the language), and interact and learn from how some online Hasidic accounts are adapting the language for l era of social networks.
Scotland, and Glasgow’s Southside in particular, holds a unique place in Yiddish history. When Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in the industrial centers of the country from the late 19th century to the 1920s, entangled in networks that brought wood, iron and coal from the Russian Baltic brought Yiddish with them.
For a century, Scotland’s central belt has housed a unique Yiddish hybrid and Britain’s only indigenous Jewish “dialect”: Scottish-Yiddish, which formed when the language merged and blended with the Scottish, sometimes referred to as Scottish Gaelic, the dialect spoken by millions of people. in the lowlands of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Holleb and Isaac also wink at this unique Yiddish past.
“I think that by just being in Scotland and doing Yiddish, we’re going to be doing Scots-Yiddish,” Holleb said. “It is important to us that the Yiddish that we do is not just preservation – we want to use and speak Yiddish, and if it is used in Scotland, we will say Scottish words.”
For example, they adopt a variant of “Glasgow” which differs from the typical Yiddish spelling of the city, preferring a spelling derived from Scottish. From there, the hope is that the Pink Peacock will also become a space for speakers of languages like Scottish Gaelic, Romani, and other Jewish minority languages like Ladino and Judeo-Arabic.
“We are building a linguistic minority community,” said Isaac. “We are focusing here on Yiddish as the main language, but we are making an effort and hope to welcome all kinds of different languages. “
Yiddish is spoken by around 30,000 people in Britain, almost all of them from the growing Hasidic community. In Scotland, where a large Hasidic community is lacking, Yiddish has effectively been dead for years. Today the closest Yiddish language center to Glasgow is the yeshiva town of Gateshead, 150 miles south of England.
“There is a need for Yiddish,” said Holleb. “There is hardly any Yiddish activity in the UK, and most of it is seen as academic and suffocating, or just plain inaccessible.”
Holleb and Isaac are not alone: from New York to London via Sydney, a small number of young left-wing Jews claim Yiddish as an act of political expression.
“The language is being rediscovered by young Jews,” said Holleb. “For me it was an exercise in disassimilation – as Jews we don’t have much to gain from assimilation and we risk losing our culture, and I don’t want to do that.
“It has become evident that being actively Jewish, whatever that means to people, is an act of anti-fascist resistance in itself… It’s powerful to say ‘mit zeynen do’ – we are here, and we still speak Yiddish.
Holleb and Isaac said they were not interested in Hebrew because it was too tied to the nation-building project of Israel, a country their policies disagree with. They also believe that Yiddish is more secular and multicultural as it incorporates elements of other languages in the countries where the Jews have settled.
“Yiddish is seen as an antithesis of Hebrew and Zionism,” said Holleb, “especially for anti-Zionist Jews, or Jews who criticize the State of Israel. Yiddish is a way to connect with a Jewish language that is not modern Hebrew. There is no Yiddish nation. It is a diasporic language.
Holleb and Isaac have been active among left-wing Jewish collectives in Scotland, and although they are atheists, they have been involved in Irn-Ju, a congregation that conducts synagogue services at the homes of its members, many of whom are from of the LGBTQ community.
By providing their website and online resources in a bilingual fashion, the couple add, they hope they can help “native speakers of Yiddish” – primarily the Hasidim – “who are homosexual and likely have no resources to help them understand. or manage that. “
“In our Yiddish we have tried to be readable for the Hasidim, but they speak a different dialect,” Holleb said. “Our Yiddish is more academic because that’s how we learned.
The two had a “mixed” relationship with Glasgow’s established Jewish community. When they and the Irn-Ju leaders campaigned to save a disused local synagogue from demolition, the community claimed the group was reopening old disputes that had been settled years earlier. The community had sold the building to fund other things, and Irn-Ju had no plan or funding to run a physical synagogue.
Nonetheless, Holleb and Isaac hope to attract at least some of the city’s 9,000 Jews and point out that the Pink Peacock concept is not “divisive.” They simply believe that they are “reaching a Jewish community that other groups are not.”
“Even if someone despises all of our politics,” said Isaac, “they can benefit from the food we provide.”