Fiction

The Synagogue in the East End

3

Professor Lichtenstein asked us to find a quiet place in the Synagogue and start writing anything that came up to our mind about the place. It could be fiction, poetry or non-fiction: we had to try to imagine something that could have happened there, or just make up a whole story. She called it immersive writing. […] Imagine, visiting places, reading, trying to create and produce something original while you’re exactly in the place you want to write about. That was the whole meaning of our visit and our trip to the East End.

We took our sit and started writing. In the next post, I will write what I imagined.

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This silence is corrosive.
Not in a bad way. Not at all.
It forces you to shut the fuck up and to think. One moment you’re in the middle of the East End, watching, smelling and listening to so many people and so many things that crash, whistle and roam, and then suddenly you are almost eaten up by this terrible silence.
And I mean, again, it’s bloody frightening and corrosive, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just like, if you are a nice and decent person and you’re totally okay with yourself, then you don’t mind the peremptory silence of a synagogue.
But if you are someone like me, then you can bet that this place makes you shit your bloody pants.

It’s not like I am a bad person at all – I don’t rob old ladies or cheat on my wife (well, that time with that stripper doesn’t really count, right?). But of course, it is never a matter of being good or bad. You know it, there are so many shades and all. Everyone knows that shit.
The thing is that you can’t be comfortable with this silence when you’ve got so many doubts about yourself and your life choices, because if you are only a little not okay with yourself, entering a synagogue can be bloody scary. You feel watched. Even if you’re not a Jew. Maybe especially, if you’re not a Jew.
Just in case you were wondering, I’m not a Jew, but Anna is. My wife. She has started to discover her tradition, her origins and her religion since the loss. I didn’t mind going with her – of course, it was not something I was craving for, but at the beginning I was fine with it. No big deal. I mean, it didn’t seem like anything too hard. I even looked good with that sort of hat that they give to men when they enter the synagogue. So, when we went up the stairs, I felt quite relaxed – until we entered into the patio or whatever it’s called.
Anna didn’t say bye to me. She didn’t even turn to tell me what the fuck I should to. She just went up the stairs and she reached the balcony where all the other women were seated, and I felt like an idiot.
I mean, I was perfectly comfortable with any situation that involved a place full of men – I was a good footballer, I told jokes at work meetings and I could take home a lady from the pub in thirty minutes, but what about standing alone in a synagogue?
I felt bloody scared, like everyone was staring at me – not only the people who were actually there, but also all the dead people, all the Jews who had died there, with their names carved on the benches. But I felt like there were also God and all those nice and kind guys from the Old Testament, glaring and judging me like I was eating a whole chain of sausages in the middle of the place.
But wait, that was not prohibited to Jews. I mean, Jews could eat pork, right? Or were they the Muslims? Oh, fuck this shit.
I heard someone saying something in Yddish that seemed quite threatening and I sat down on the first place I found. I looked at my own trousers, trying to avoid the feeling of being watched, but the moment I calmed own, here they were. They arrived, uncontrollably, and I felt my hands shaking. I don’t know why, but I looked up at the ceiling. Here they were.
All the thoughts that I was telling you about. Assaulting me with the heavy dense silence of a synagogue in the East End.

London, Sandy's Row Synagogue 1

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