Welcome to Pink Peacock, Glasgow’s queer Yiddish anarchist cafe

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Govanhill, in Glasgow’s southern district, is perhaps the closest Scotland has to interwar Yiddish-speaking Europe. With its rows of red-brick Romanian shops and Polish bars, it’s the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the country, also home to other Eastern European, Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations.

The neighborhood is about to welcome a notable new Jewish neighbor: a Yiddish-speaking, gay-friendly kosher cafe run by self-proclaimed Jewish anarchists. At the Pink Peacock, customers “will pay what they can”.

“We are filling a gap and showing them that there is a Jewish space where you can be loud and welcome,” said Morgan Holleb, 31, who along with co-founder Joe Isaac, 21, hopes that the restaurant will become a hub of Yiddish and LGBTQ activity in Glasgow.

Customers will be told the “equilibrium price” for the food they ordered, “and they can pay either side down to zero”.

“The idea of ​​the project is to bring food and community to people in a way that’s accessible and affordable,” said Morgan, a Chicago native who moved to Scotland’s biggest city a while ago. two years.

Holleb and Isaac are negotiating a lease and say they hope to open the cafe “between Jewish New Year and Goyish New Year.”

The model that underpins the cafe has already been road-tested: the Pink Peacock has set up shop in recent months to deliver food parcels to the local community from the kitchen of the couple’s home, which has been transformed into an industrial-scale production line for pastries and deep-fried food. Holleb and Isaac have been delivering weekly ‘bread baskets’ containing bagels and challah, as well as traditional Ashkenazi dishes such as knishes, to some 40-50 Glasgow households in need due to the coronavirus pandemic . Most of them were not Jews.

A sampling of Pink Peacock bagels, hummus and challah – or in Yiddish, baygls, khumus and khale. (Photo/JTA-Courtesy Pink Peacock)

When the cafe officially opens, it will offer the certified vegan, kosher and halal staples of the Ashkenazi cookbook, as well as dishes that Holleb and Isaac say have been “forgotten” in the greasy pages of Jewish culinary history. , from outside the “classic” Polish and Belarusian and Ukrainian cuisines.

Amid the clanking of pots and pans, the founders plan to hold conferences on revolutionary and social themes.

“I hope,” said Holleb, who is transgender and a published author on LGBTQ+ issues, “people will hear we’re anarchists and say, ‘Oh, that’s anarchism, I thought the anarchism meant chaos and broken 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 space for learning Yiddish”, equipped with Yiddish dictionaries and full of lectures, “so that people can practice their Yiddish”.

They are also leading the establishment of a “Summer Yiddish Program”—details to be determined—for learners and Yiddishists.

The cafe already has a strong social media presence and a bilingual website with the icon of a hand-drawn bird. Holleb and Isaac tweet in Yiddish (rather rare among mainstream Yiddish institutions, which they condemn as “conservative” in their approach to the language), and interact and learn from how some online Hasidic accounts adapt the language for the social media age.

Morgan Holleb (left) and Joe Isaac pack Pink Peacock food for delivery.  (Photo/JTA-Courtesy Pink Peacock)
Morgan Holleb (left) and Joe Isaac pack Pink Peacock food for delivery. (Photo/JTA-Courtesy Pink Peacock)

Scotland, and the Southside of Glasgow in particular, holds a unique place in Yiddish history. When Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in the country’s industrial centers from the late 19th century to the 1920s, entangled in networks that brought timber, iron and coal from the Russian Baltic, they brought Yiddish with them.

For a century Scotland’s central belt was home to a unique Yiddish hybrid and Britain’s only indigenous Jewish “dialect”: Scots-Yiddish, which formed when the language merged and mixed with Scots, the dialect spoken by millions of people in the lowlands of Scotland and the north. Ireland.

Holleb and Isaac also nod to this unique Yiddish past.

“I think just by being in Scotland and doing Yiddish, we’ll be doing Scottish-Yiddish,” Holleb said. “It’s important to us that the Yiddish we do isn’t just about preservation – we want to use and speak Yiddish, and if it’s used in Scotland we’ll say Scottish words.”

For example, they adopt a variant of “Glasgow” which differs from the city’s typical Yiddish spelling, preferring one 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 minority language community,” Isaac said. “We are focusing here on Yiddish as the main language, but we are making efforts and hope to host all kinds of different languages.”

Yiddish is spoken by around 30,000 people in Britain, almost all from the growing Hasidic community. In Scotland, which lacks a large Hasidic community, Yiddish has been effectively dead for years. Today, the nearest Yiddish language center to Glasgow is the yeshiva town of Gateshead, 240 km south of England.

“There is a need for Yiddish,” Holleb said. “There is hardly any Yiddish activity in the UK, and most of it is considered academic and stuffy, or just unreachable.”

A table laid at the Pink Peacock.  (Photo/JTA-Pink Peacock)
A table laid at the Pink Peacock. (Photo/JTA-Pink Peacock)

Holleb and Isaac are not alone: ​​from New York to London to Sydney, a small number of young left-wing Jews claim Yiddish as their act of political expression.

“The language is being rediscovered by young Jews,” Holleb said. “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 clear that being an active Jew, whatever that means to people, is an act of anti-fascist resistance in itself… It’s powerful to say’mir zaynen do‘ – we are here, and we still speak Yiddish.

Holleb and Isaac said they weren’t interested in Hebrew because it was too tied to the nation-building project of Israel, a country whose politics they disagreed with. They also believe that Yiddish is more secular and multicultural as it incorporates elements of other languages ​​in the countries where Jews settled.

“Yiddish is seen as the antithesis of Hebrew and Zionism,” Holleb said, “especially for anti-Zionist Jews or Jews who criticize the Israeli state. Yiddish is a way to connect with a Jewish language that is not modern Hebrew. There is no Yiddish nationality. It is a diasporic language.

Holleb and Isaac were active among left-wing Jewish collectives in Scotland and, although atheists, were involved in Irn-Ju, a congregation that holds synagogue services in the homes of its members, many of whom are from the LGBTQ community.

By providing their website and online resources bilingually, they add, they hope to help “native speakers of Yiddish” – mostly Hasidim – “who are gay and likely have no resources to help them understand or deal with that.”

“In our Yiddish, we made an effort to be readable for 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 leadership 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 stress that the Pink Peacock concept is not “divisive”. They simply believe that they are “reaching a Jewish community that other groups are not reaching.”

“Even if someone despises all of our policies,” Isaac said, “he can appreciate the food we provide.”

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