Xmas Cheer Lost And Found In London
Merry Christmukkah from Tel Aviv
A week ago I was the living picture of the Grinch – I was sure Santa will forget me this year, and I had no idea how will I host a Christmukkah party so soon, without feeling the slightest Christmas spirit shining in my heart. I didn’t care about decorating the halls, xmas shopping, or even festive food. But then something happened – and by now I’m writing these lines with a pair of absolutely fabulous vegan Dr. Martens boots on my feet, with the sweet taste of Vanilla Oreos in my mouth, and with lost-and-found cheerfulness in my heart.
I spent a long weekend in London – but this time instead of listing vegan restaurants, fancy hotels or cewl clubs, I’m just gonna tell you what this all means to me…
When I first arrived to London I was a teenage boy I had one backpack on me, about 15 pounds in my pocket, I had no idea where I’m going to sleep at night, and didn’t know anyone in the city. Now, about 15 years later I think about the UK’s capital as one of my (many) homes. The town captivated me: there is no other place on the face of this planet which is so accepting and welcoming towards everyone and anyone, yet it preserves it’s native’s traditions.
May it be food, fashion, art, London has so much to give to it’s people. My trips to the city became more and more frequent after I got a job as a TV host for Hungary’s Music Television, and the local MTV often invited us the VJs from all across the globe – so I was doing red carpet interviews, round table talks and reported from movie premiers and award shows.
But my real emotional connection with London started off after one of my best friends, Daniel suggested to stay at his place instead of being alone in a soulless hotel room – and his tiny little room happened to be in Hackney, East London. By now this artistic-hipstery-hub is the center of all the fun, and anyone who know anything about London knows that no touristic spot as Oxford street, Covent Garden, or Notting Hill could ever reach up to it.
Back then, it was a blossoming culture of young self-appointed artists who just wanted to think ourside the box, and not spend all their money on rent while doing so. It wasn’t filled with trendy cafés and home grown veggie markets, or fashionable clothe stores just yet – instead the specific spot I stayed at was nicknamed „Murder Mile”, having a reputation of being the center of crime in London. But what really made the house special was some sort of a magical vibe.
The landlady was Sabina aka Julie London, a skinny girl with big brown eyes and a huge charisma – she was a true Londoner, but her parents were from Bangladesh, and the cultural swap turned her into one of the most exciting people I’ve ever met. My other favourite housemate was Garry – a tall, curly guy with long legs and arms, and a tiny star tattoo on his cheek. Even before ever talking to him I loved him: he was playing fun (and loud) music in his room and cooked killer chilli beans.
Throughout the years I quit working for the music TV, started to get into freelance journalism, fell in love with an Israeli student, Matan, and soon moved to Tel Aviv for a while, yet when an opportunity came up, I decided to study creative writing and London’s Goldsmith uni for a semester – obviously, it was only an excuse to finally spend some extended time in London.
By this time I was vegan, was obsessed with cooking, and as I always do, I was often baking cakes and cookies for a local café in the middle of the night, leaving a few pieces on the shared kitchen’s dining table with a note: “Hey, I’m vegan banana-peanut butter muffins, eat me”. And as good food always leads us in good directions, Sabina, Garry, Matan, and all the rest of the housemates became like one big (and slightly weird) family in no time.
We cooked and ate together, wandered around the local market places, partied, painted our faces, put on fancy dresses on average weekday afternoons, hosted pop-up events, played music, etgot to know each other’s friends, and although we never felt like it was quite enough of each other, soon my semester was over and I had to move back to Tel Aviv.
Of course leaving London meant leaving a piece of my heart behind, and as much as I love the White City I never quite got over feeling homesick over Millfields road. The Londoner friends remained in my life in every way: visited me and my back then boyfriend every so often, Garry – driven by Kabbalah, a spiritual wisdom that has given so much for both of us – even spent half a year in Israel, sleeping in our Tel Aviv apartment’s „Harry Potter room”, a storage with a big window under the stairway.
We met up whenever we could, wherever we could: Amsterdam, Budapest, Tel Aviv, London, and when life took an unexpected turn a year ago, and me and my ex husband separated, they kept the spirit in me, making sense out of the mess I found myself in. We didn’t see each other for over a year, but they did know about me meeting someone who melted my heart and reminded me how everyone can love and be loved again.
When I received and invitation to London’s Westminster Synagogue to host a Hungarian dinner, and give a talk about living in Tel Aviv as an LGBTQ, vegan, and not-quite-Jewish resident, I was overjoyed: sharing some special moments with the members of an unlikely Hungarian, Jewish, and LGBTQ friendly community, and talk about creating bridges between subcultures? That’s exactly what Christmas is all about.
But I was also getting butterflies in my tummy just by thinking about seeing the Millfields Muffins again. I got super excited for the old friends finally meeting the boy who brought me back to life after the divorce. Nimi and I travelled together 6 times in the past 9 months, but this workation was somewhat more special for me than any of the previous ones.
Not only because I had the chance to show him all those magical places I still dream about sometimes living in Tel Aviv, and not only because of all the incredible beers in the coolest pubs, the delicious bites at the vegan eateries, the colourful markets and second hand shops, but also because I desperately needed to „re-connect” with my old self.
I wasn’t sure I can get excited anymore – about Christmas, about Chanukkah, about shopping, partying, drinking, or even about arriving back to the city I missed so much. I was scared that my childish enthusiasm over fun in general has left me with a cold chest, and I urgently needed a reminder. And in the end what I got was so much more then that.
I saw my friends going on with their lives, just like I did, because life doesn’t wait for anyone: the house we used to live at is under renovation now, and will be turned into Sabina’s family’s home, while most of the crew found a magical house to fill up with new memories. I saw my boyfriend connecting with the people who knew me from a different lifetime, feeling like two dimensions just melted into one beautiful present.
I still remembered how much I’ve lost, but I got a good reminder how loss leaves place for something new to gain – especially after a long conversation with my friend Craig, Garry’s longtime boyfriend, who often reminded me on myself throughout the years, but only now I start understanding how similar we are. I know it’s almost corny to finish a write-up with reciting how grateful I am for these past four days of walking down memory lane and climbing the Tree of Life. Yet I feel like I need to thank the Light for guiding me to London this Christmukkah.
I wish we won’t have to wait until next December to reunite again, but even if we do, by now I understand: sometimes waiting patiently instead of wanting the immediate satisfaction of seeing the big picture is the best we can do. After being back, Christmas and Chanukkah just happened. Loved ones came together, my friend and long time collaborator Sara Salamon and I created 17 new food photos and vegan recipes for an upcoming magazine, joy was flowing through our tiny apartment – and my scepticism over Christmas turned into hope and believing.
Thanks to all those special gifts I got – from the people around me, even the ones I never expected it from. Next year we will reunite again, and I truly hope by this time „we all will be together, if the faith allows. Until then we have to muddle through somehow” – so have yourself a merry little Christmukkah now.
Special thanks to Rabbi Thomas Solomon, the heart, soul, and mind of the Westminster Synagogue, and to my friend Noam Fisher, member of the Westminster Young Professionals who brought my name up suggesting me as a guest speaker. Follow the blog on Instagram @whitecityboy. Photos by @nimrodagan and myself. Home restaurant in Tel Aviv: Kristóf’s Kitchen. Cookbook and vegan food truck in Budapest: Kristóf Konyhája. The blog’s FB page is right here, like us, cos sharing is caring.