I am not a regular attendee at Synagogue. Twice a year. Three times at a push. Two of those are within a ten day period, at some point every September.
My attendance has more to do with a misguided sense of obligation than much else, or at least that’s the story I tell myself. It’s an opportunity to spend some quality time with my Dad. But it’s more than that, it’s also a chance to visit a place which is intertwined with the history of my family, and also the struggle for better.
Sandy’s Row is the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in London and also where, on my father’s side, both of my Great Grandparents and my Grandparents were married. Today, the only real memories of those events are the three plaques dedicated to them.
The East End of London was a very different place in 1908, 1915 and 1940, the years of their respective nuptials, and the gentrification of Spitalfields is probably where today’s blog should be headed.
But it’s not. So for those who are hoping to read about how property values in the East End of London have gone from “you live where?” to “oh, you live there”, this isn’t the week for you. Sorry.
It’s a slightly strange feeling to be present in a building where four people who you never met, but also without whom you wouldn’t be here, were married. To walk on the same floor and to sit in the same seats.
Life in the East End before the first World War isn’t like it is today. Spitalfields was a gritty, working class part of London where if you tried really hard, and got a bit lucky, you might have been able to move away. Now of course, if you try really hard, and get a bit lucky, you might be able to move back.
All of this introspection was brought into focus by a book I recently read. Owen Eastwood is a New Zealander of Māori descent, and has worked with the Command Group of Nato, The Royal Ballet School, The British Olympic association and the England football team.
Through his book, Belonging, I was introduced to the concept of Whakapapa - the Māori way of explaining your place in the world, and your place in any tribe or family.
Whakapapa points a finger at us and tells us, ''You will not be judged by your money or celebrity or sense of self pride...you will be judged by what you did for our tribe”
Over the past couple of years the concept of privilege has become very political. However it’s undeniable that I owe my privileged position to the people who came before me.
People who lived through two World Wars and unbelievable hardship because they wanted a better life for themselves, and also future generations of their family.
And when I say privilege, I don’t just mean living in a house with central heating and an indoor toilet, or being able to put food on the table and clothe my children. But also the privilege of education, and the freedom to pursue career choices.
As an estate agent, the sense of fulfilment that comes with helping people on their journey through life is pretty special. Selling homes where people have created years of happy memories. Or finding them new ones, and the excitement that brings.
Trust too, is a privilege. Having clients put their faith in your advice, and your ability to help them achieve their goals.
Whilst I might not be doing for my tribe what my great grandparents did for theirs, by the standards of the post industrialist, highly individualistic society that we live in today, I like to feel that I might be contributing something.
And if I’m lucky, 100 years from now, my great grandchildren might see a plaque dedicated to me somewhere, be it in a Synagogue, or even better, a bench on Hampstead Heath.
“Each of us is part of an unbreakable chain of people, back into our past to our first ancestors, and into the future, to the end of time. Everybody has their arms interlocked so it’s an unbreakable chain. The metaphor is that the sun first shone on our origin story and slowly moves down this chain of people, and when the sun shines on you that signifies your time.”
So here I am, the sun shining on me. Trying to do my bit. Grateful to all of those who went before me. Lucky enough to have an influence on the future generations of my family. And if I do really well at that job, maybe I’ll end up as a dedication on a park bench.
Things I’ve been inspired by this week
I’m an estate agent masquerading as a blogger. My sister is an actual, published, children's author.
She’s also the CEO of Bright Little Labs, a kids media company that makes animations, books, games and toys with a focus on 21st century skills, inclusive role models, and sustainability (I copied this from her Wikipedia page, so I didn’t get it wrong).
In other words, she’s actually doing something that might benefit humankind.
Her latest book has been shortlisted for Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2021. You can’t vote for her, there’s a judging panel. I’m just telling you. In fact, I’m telling everyone.