ITV’s foray into the traditional lifestyle of some Jewish communities certainly provides food for thought for us “goyims”*, as ITV’s documentary Strictly Kosher gives us unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to a world normally shrouded with a certain degree of secrecy.
With over 40,000 Jewish inhabitants, Manchester is the fastest growing Yiddish community in Europe and business is booming as entrepreneur’s clamber to provide Kosher goods and services. Everything from hairdressers to dating agencies has been given the Torah treatment and clothing stores set up to meet the needs of the very fashion-conscious orthadox populace are flourishing.
As with every religion, there’s a wide spectrum of belief across the community. For starters, we meet Joel, the camp Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen lookalike shopkeeper who only enjoys the community aspects of his faith, and sees nothing wrong in through a glitzy Bollywood themed bar mitzah party. In contrast to him there’s the Irish-Jewish ‘baleboste’ who follows rituals like an OCD-sufferer on a factory line. This includes observing the Sabbath, which runs from sundown on Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. With over 600 rules to adhere to, there’s plenty of preparation needed each week, including pre-tearing toilet paper and kitchen towel and removing the light bulb from the fridge. Lighting candles must also be done in advance, as there a ban on using matches and turning on lights (When God has a rest, he really does have a rest).
As the programme advances further into the realms of what most of us would consider strange, we meet those who follow Haredi Judaism and wear traditional robes and hats and get their hair and side-burns cut at specific Jewish barbers. Many of these believers don’t see the point of owning television sets (that’s what happens when the first programme you ever see is Jeremy Kyle..) Programme-makers joke that they must have lots of sex to ‘keep warm’ – with each family having about 8 kids, they could be on to something.
In a similar format to Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, this one-off documentary provides viewers with an compelling and amusing fly-on-the-wall view of community rituals often closed to outsiders, with cameras present at everything from bar mitzvah’s to a boy’s circumcision, which if I’m honest has haunted my dreams ever since.
Yet what’s really interesting from the programme is that wherever you live around the world, be it Mount Sinai or Salford, there’s a real togetherness in the Jewish community. Whilst there are those in the programme who are not religious, they are still proud to call themselves Jewish, not out of a fear of God, but because of a fear of losing the community spirit. With many of us across the UK not even knowing our next door neighbours, perhaps there is something we can learn from this community spirit?
*A non-Jewish person..