by Imogen Resnick
My first taste of Hebrew Café – a new initiative for students and graduates of RSY-Netzer – was definitely a contrast to your usual pub excursion.
A small group of us were there to practise our Hebrew and talk about Israel with a real-life Israeli. A shinshin – or emissary – spending his gap year in London, he helped us through some basic greetings and encouraged us to ask him anything and everything about his country.
Discussion ranged from his feelings on British hospitality (we’re as cold as our weather), Israeli football (I confess I zoned out) and the quality of the pub’s hummus (a poor imitation).
I was joined by a good chunk of my university beginners’ Hebrew class – a diverse group of Jews and non-Jews alike. My own ties are extensive: close family, friends, and numerous visits have fostered happy memories and (I hope) a better-than-average understanding of the people and culture.
However, in the 18 months I’ve been living in London, he was the first Israeli I’d met. Enthusing about the falafel, joking about the bad driving and comparing which mountains we’ve conquered are conversations I’m rarely able to have. Discussions about Israel on campus are invariably political.
These discussions, while often divisive – and at times even escalating to violence, as seen at King’s College in January – are a vital aspect of the discourse. We must not shy away from harsh realities: Israel’s politics, at best, are messy and steeped in a bloodied history.
This intensity can stifle the discussion and appreciation of Israeli culture. With Hebrew Café, there was no pressure, no point-scoring, and certainly no agendas: a free space where we could chat in Hebrew and discuss Israel.
In an environment where such discussion has become increasingly heated, Hebrew Café was a welcome breath of fresh air.
• Imogen Resnick is a student at UCL