A Question of Religion

By Micaela Blitz – AS the saying goes, if you ask two Jews a question, you’ll get three different answers. So if the question you are asking is, “What does it mean to be Jewish?”, then oy vey, expect a lot of different answers!

This is the question posed in a recently aired episode of the BBC series ‘Being…’. This five-part series explores the beliefs and cultures of the main religions practised in multi-faith Britain today. Each episode explores the traditions and practices behind key milestone events from birth to death. Interviews with members from these communities allows them to share their personal experiences and beliefs regarding their faith and how they practice it.

In ‘Being… Jewish’, the contributors featured represented the whole Jewish spectrum. From a Jewish convert, through to an Orthodox rabbi, each talked candidly about their own views of what being Jewish meant to them and why it was important to them.

Whilst it was heartening to see Judaism discussed in this personal and honest way, without any judgement or political slant, what we at Essex Jewish News enjoyed most was how well our very own Essex Jewish community was represented throughout the programme.

Ethan trying on the tefillin at home before his Bar Mitzvah
Credit: BBC/Proper Content – Photographer: Rachel Dupuy

In the episode, we met 12-year-old Ethan from Loughton preparing for his barmitzvah. He shared his feelings about learning his portion, why having a barmitzvah was significant for him, and his choice to twin his special day with Eli Aizman, a young boy who died in the Holocaust, as a way to honour his memory. His mother, Emma, also spoke frankly about a barmitzvah being a way of connecting to thousands of years of Jewish history.

Rabbi Yanky Abrams, Rochel Abrams and new born son
Credit: BBC/Proper Content – Photographer: Rachel Dupuy

Within the programme, we saw Ethan and his family celebrate his special day at their shul, Loughton, Chigwell and District Synagogue, where Rabbi Yanky oversaw the ceremony. He, along with his wife Rochel, were also featured in the programme talking about their own celebrations at the birth of their third son, Yosef. They explained the relevance of the brit milah ceremony as the start of a young boy’s journey into Judaism. At the other end of the scale, another Essex dweller, David, shared his experiences of mourning within the Jewish religion and we saw David at Waltham Abbey Cemetery at the stone- setting for his father, Norman.

David saying Kaddish Prayer at Stone Setting
Credit: BBC/Proper Content – Photographer: Rachel Dupuy

For those eagle-eyed viewers that watched to the end credits, you may also have seen another Essex-related name in the shape of Rabbi Wollenberg. The Woodford Forest Synagogue rabbi was a consultant on the programme working with the production team to advise on elements of filming and content as well as reviewing the film prior to broadcast to ensure that it was an accurate portrayal and factually correct. He, like many others from the Essex community that watched, was pleased with the final programme and felt it gave a good basic overview of the Jewish religion showing Jews and Judaism in a positive light.

We can also exclusively reveal that Rabbi Wollenberg has been involved in another TV programme, this time in front of the camera. Rabbi Wollenberg, his wife Blima and their children took part in the second series of ‘Stacey Dooley’s Sleepover’ which sees investigative journalist and Strictly Winner, Stacey Dooley, spend a weekend with a different British families. We look forward to chatting to Rabbi Wollenberg more about this when it goes out in May, so watch this space!

Let’s hope that with antisemitism still prevalent within many areas of society, and Holocaust denier Alison Chabloz recently being jailed over antisemitic abuse, bringing Judaism to the small screen and the wider world through programmes like ‘Being Jewish’ and ‘Stacey Dooley’s Sleepover’ will give people a better understanding of what we are all about and may even go some way to tackling prejudice.  

Watch the whole series on BBC iPlayer

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