Strolling back home from the Christmas Market last night, we noticed bouncy pop music and an enthusiastic crowd in front of the Old Opera House. As we came closer, we could see the musicians, jamming on electric guitar and synthesiser. As rockers, they were (you will pardon the expression, given what follows) a little unorthodox. Oh, the beards would have gone down well back in the hippy days, and the black clothes were pure goth. But those snappy fedoras?
Yes, it was a Hasidic Hoe-Down. We are, it turns out, in the middle of Hannukah, the Jewish festival of lights. For some years now, the local Lubavitcher hasidim have displayed a menorah on the balcony of the opera house during Hannukah, but I’d never before seen a party like this one. The band was jammin’ and the people were dancin’ (the hasidic men, chastely, in a males-only circle; everyone else just bopping up and down). The songs, I take it, were traditional hasidic folk-tunes appropriate to the holiday, but set to an infectious pop beat. The Lubavitch guys handed out information sheets explaining what Hannukah is and why Jews celebrate it. And, for the kids, there were sacks of goodies (including dreidels and chocolate Hannukah gelt, thanks to which our own kids now the Hebrew letters for G, H, N and Sh.) Receiving a gift made a nice change from the Christmas market, where the order of business was extracting money from the punters at the quickest rate possible.
The scene made me nostalgic for New York, where one would probably not even notice a hasidic street-show. But in Frankfurt, let me tell you, its novelty value is rather higher. I found the Lubavitchers’ outreach to non-Jews (which is what almost all passers-by would have been) especially nice. I imagine the main reason the Lubavitcher are in Frankfurt is to encourage religious observance among the city’s Jewish population. (The Lubavitcher are unusual among hasidim in having a strongly missionary approach, albeit only within the Jewish community. Their goal is not to convert gentiles but to increase the knowledge and observance of their less-pious fellow Jews.) By German standards, Frankfurt has a large Jewish population (second only to Berlin’s, I believe), many of them Russian emigr?s and many of them more or less secular. Certainly the Lubavitcher would have been happy if last night’s party brought them into contact with local Jews, but their broader purpose seemed to be to explain the holiday to the far more numerous non-Jews and let them share in the fun. A nice gesture, and a healthy event.
And, since the Lubavitcher have reminded me, chag sameach (if that’s the right phrase) to our Jewish readers. And, to our non-Jewish readers, if you are walking through your city and see what looks like an impromptu concert by an uncharacteristically conservatively-dressed ZZ Top, stop by and enjoy the music.