It’s November 2005, and I receive the following in my email: “Looking for an group of people to share a warm and friendly kabbalat shabbat with? Love veggie food? Then maybe you’d like to join us. Wandering Jews is a new and very welcoming group of Jews living in and around [parts of northwest London]. On the first shabbat of every secular month we meet for kabbalat shabbat, optional praying, a lot of singing and some damn fine veggie food. We are very much at an experimental stage and are currently wandering from flat to flat.”
Wind forward eleven years, and the same message could almost be sent again for the launch of Wandering Jews in Berlin, except that this time there’s eleven years’ experience of WJ behind it, and a WJ-shaped hole in my life since I left London at the start of the year.
Wandering Jews was first founded by Sargam Picker, Joseph Finlay and Naomi Soetendorp—three Jews of Orthodox, Reform and Liberal backgrounds—in 2005. Naomi described it as “A little bit Fight Club, a little bit minyan, almost 100% good”—though no boxing takes place, and if you couldn’t talk about WJ, you wouldn’t be reading this! It’s held in a different person’s house each time, and for each one, it’s “your house, your rules”.
Services have varied from the traditional to the experimental; they’ve been held everywhere from cramped one-bedroom flats to the open expanse of Hampstead Heath. They started out using photocopies of the Singer’s Prayerbook, but, following a quest for a more ethical solution (“there must be texts online we can make a siddur from, and if necessary translate them ourselves… why is everyone looking at me?”) we now have our very own WJ siddur.
Following the service, there is a potluck meal, to which everyone is requested to bring a vegetarian dish.
WJ is open to all Jews and the people who love them, and does not ask questions in relation to people’s Jewish status or level of observance. It’s sprouted daughter groups in Denver, Colorado and Brussels, and now it’s coming to Berlin. The first event will be in my flat in Pankow on the 19th of August, and you’re all invited: Sign up here or contact me directly at email@example.com to get the address. The second event will be on the sixteenth of September, and will be announced in the WJ Facebook group shortly.
And if you like the idea, and would like to shape the future of WJ in Berlin (whether or not you can lead a service yourself), then do please get in touch to volunteer to host a future WJ event.