JW3 might just have proved it really never is too late to learn something new – by hosting Revelation, an epic five-hour Jewish learning marathon tonight (Wednesday)
Traditionally, communities forego their sleep and stay up all night to learn Jewish texts on the festival of Shavuot, which begins on Thursday.
But due to the lockdown, a “virtual Mount Sinai” was created instead, featuring actor and director Steven Berkoff, author Rodger Kamenetz, filmmaker Lisa Gornick and comedian David Schneider.
We caught up with David ahead of his session, Stories In The Dark, where he will be exploring Lord of the Rings in Yiddish…
JN: Do you normally celebrate Shavuot and what meaning does this year hold for you?
DS: I don’t normally celebrate Shavuot (or Shavuos as I should say being Ashkenazi!) or many of the festivals, other than Pesach, but I have enjoyed a number of learning evenings like this over the years and despite social media shrinking my capacity to concentrate I really appreciate learning from different people when I can.
JN: The event is billed as a “virtual Mount Sinai”, an online bringing together of the community. Have you taken part in many virtual events over lockdown and has it made you appreciate technology a bit more?
DS: I run a social media company, so have been involved the virtual world for a while and we have been organising lots of virtual events, including some live stand-up comedy on Instagram. I think what I have appreciated in this moment is that when restrictions are imposed, creativity finds a way through. My kids are investing huge amounts of time creating these mad virtual pub quizzes and it makes you think, ‘what if the Revelation at Mount Sinai was one big virtual pub quiz where the winning nation won the ten commandments?’ I think that lockdown can sometimes feel like we are in a prison, but virtual events have a way of providing that prison with some really good quality entertainment.
JN: The tradition on Shavuot is to forego sleep by learning Jewish texts. Are you someone who enjoys Jewish learning? Are you someone who likes to forego sleep?
DS: There is something about staying up at night that does feel purifying in a similar way to fasting and takes me back to my university days and of feeling desperate to finish an essay for an imminent deadline. Night time gives us a chance to switch off our phones and concentrate on what we are engaging in, without the distractions.
JN: Lord of the Rings in Yiddish sounds intriguing – can you tell us a little about it?
DS: Well I love Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and I studied for a PhD in Yiddish drama at Oxford. I encountered this podcast, The Yiddish Voice or Dos Yidishe Kol with Barry Goldstein, who had translated LOTR into Yiddish. I felt a sense of cynicism, followed by a feeling of comfort in seeing two passions of mine coming together in a weird and wacky way. The language of Yiddish does have an Elvish and runic quality that appeals to me and it feels like an epic language. A bit like the continuing story of the ring in LOTR, I have inherited this love for Yiddish from my grandfather who translated Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
JN: The event is called Revelation – what has been your biggest revelation since lockdown began?
DS: One revelation I have had that feels a bit trite but true is that there are a lot of pretty good people out there. I often get angry on social media or see lots of things that bother me, but it’s been wonderful to see so many decent and good acts in communities and in the arts world. I live in London in a street where the neighbours don’t speak to each other and in this crisis, we have connected and a community has been built. A less positive, but real revelation I have also had is that there is no Jeff Goldblum character that’s going to rescue the world for us.
For more details about Revelation, which takes place tonight (Wednesday) from 8.30pm, visit Jw3.org.uk