Cultural identity


By Leon A Smith
May 17, 2013
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The Jewish Chronicle recently ran an interesting feature in which they asked numerous people, some of them well known, some of them not, to define their Jewish identity. The range of answers was diverse. Everybody identifies Judaism in their own way and at their own level. For some it is religious believe and for others it’s cultural identity or being part of a group who have one thing in common, ie that they are Jewish.

We are well aware that the phenomena of polarisation is apace within our community with a significant increase in the numbers of Haredin and also increased levels of secularisation. But even secularisation has changed.

We are pleased that at Nightingale House and Hammerson House we welcome residents from all parts of the community, from all levels of religious adherence and from all sorts of different backgrounds. Some are devoutly religious, some are totally areligious, agnositic, or atheist. One thing that they all have in common is that they are Jewish.

Shavuot is not a Festival which is likely to have been celebrated by many of our residents. Indeed, it may be considered by many of our residents to be a relatively minor Festival. Yet here within our homes residents have the opportunity to attend synagogue, to involve themselves in social or cultural events around the Festival. The build up to Shavuot has seen frantic cooking sessions taking place in our kitchens with a variety of different recipes being used for the obligatory cheesecake. A celebratory tea dance which took place at Nightingale House on Tuesday attended by residents from the Royal Hospital Chelsea was a great success. The Chelsea Pensioners in full regalia tucked into their cheesecake with the same enthusiasm as our residents! It should be noted that the cheesecake served at the event was made by our residents in one of our special kitchens supported by trained staff.

The great thing about the communities which we run at Nightingale House and Hammerson House is that they give everybody the option to participate at whatever particular level they wish to do, without there being any compulsion upon anybody to do anything should they not wish to do so. Synagogue services are laid on, the synagogues are decorated with flowers and the Festival is reflected in the menu. For some, the Festival will pass them by, for others they will attend synagogue; or for some it will simply be cheesecake days.
What we are providing at our homes is the ability for everybody to celebrate and/or not celebrate the Festival in the way in which they see fit.

I was delighted that our friends from the Royal Hospital were able to join us for our pre-Yom Tov festivities. One wonders what they might have expected coming into a Jewish home had they not visited before and what impressions they would have left with? Whilst certainly Nightingale House would not have looked any different from anywhere else, perhaps apart from its size, the only outward symbols of a Jewish nature of the Home would have been the presence of the synagogue – which I must add was beautifully decorated for the Festival

Apart from the synagogue, the Jewish nature of our homes is frankly intangible. One cannot touch it. It’s difficult to define or describe. But it is there and it is that which attracts so many people to come and live in our homes. Whatever “it” is, it’s clearly something which a lot of older people want and we are delighted that we are able to provide it.

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