The Mensch

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A137 mensch

Written by Ambi Sitham. Ambi, a first-time Jewrotica writer, was born and raised in London to immigrant parents from Sri Lanka. She is a lawyer cum expert commentator, author and host and currently lives in Los Angeles.

The Mensch is the second of four essays that Ambi is writing for Jewrotica and is a continuation of Shema Yisrael. Her series of essays chronicle her love affair with all things Jewish from innocent beginnings as a twelve-year-old schoolgirl to a long-term relationship with a Jewish man that she considers one of the great loves of her life to flirting with the idea of conversion. The break-up of that relationship was followed by a continued strong mutual attraction to Jewish men throughout her life, which after one passionate fling led her to a spiritual path that resulted in the unlikeliest of realizations about her true passion for all things Jewish. This passion, in truth, is esoteric rather than erotic.



The Mensch

My time at Henrietta Barnett went by in a haze of activity befitting of any school girl; playing pranks on teachers, escapades with friends, getting into trouble and, of course, exams. At 16, during our summer break, my close friends all went to Israel on ‘camp’ and I felt a deep sense of envy. I was unsure if it was the exclusiveness that made me feel envy (the camps were only for Jewish teenagers), or if it was because I had always wanted to visit Israel, or a combination of both. Whatever the reason I felt a bit miffed, and that summer busied myself with my own travels; a trip to Kenya and Tanzania backpacking and on safari with a bunch of other teenagers.

Returning and swapping notes, my friends were equally enamoured and envious of my trip as I was of theirs. But I knew I would go to Israel one day – in fact, I knew I would go more than once. I was still curious about Judaism but not in the same way as I had been as an 11-year-old schoolgirl. Instead, like most of my peers I was consumed by the woes of usual teenage angst.

Soon university applications and A-levels were the focus. I had known since I was 10 that I wanted to be a lawyer, so for me the area of study was not an issue – and like a lot of my friends, I had been set on studying in Manchester for some time. I was a Londoner through and through and didn’t want to head off to some remote country town to study. I needed bright lights, a big city and lots to do. As the next biggest city in the UK, Manchester felt the right choice. Before I knew it, A-levels were over, results were out and I was moving out of home and starting a new chapter.

Unlike many who headed off to universities where they knew very few people and almost started from scratch I had some good friends going to Manchester, as well as friends of friends. Whilst we weren’t all attending the same campuses or living in the same student accommodation, we weren’t more than a few minutes walking distance or bus ride away from each other. Nonetheless, I made new friends and enjoyed the newfound freedom and fun of university life until I became unwell; it turned out a bug I had caught whilst on my teenage travels to Africa had stayed within my body and the unhealthy (and debauched) student lifestyle had exacerbated it so much so that it was now debilitating. I became so unwell I was unable to attend most of my lectures and withdrew from my course to restart the following year. It was a fateful moment in my life: it is what led me to meet the Mensch.

The Mensch and I were introduced by his ex-girlfriend, who was one of the new students on my newly commenced law course, and soon became a good friend. Knowing I was single and open to a proper relationship (after the unsettledness caused by my illness I craved stability), she said she had this great friend who she had briefly dated when they were younger. I met the Mensch socially and whilst I thought he was a great guy there wasn’t an instant spark or chemistry. But he asked me out on a proper date and at a time when all my friends’ university dates were not so much dates as going down to the student pub at happy hour, being plied with drinks and then having a pass made at them (often when they were half throwing up, I kid you not), the Mensch took a much more adult, romantic approach. He turned up at my student house to collect me wearing a shirt and trousers (really rare for a university student!), and took me to a proper restaurant.

Our first date was lovely, it felt grown up and real and he was a true gentleman – looking back at a time when I was craving security, perhaps that is what I fell for, initially at least… He came in for a cup of tea after dinner, and making a small reference to my Gustav Klimt print The Kiss, he made his move and we had our first kiss. It wasn’t a passionate kiss with sparks flying but it did feel romantic and right. My affection towards him grew quickly and within a couple of weeks we had the conversation about becoming officially boyfriend and girlfriend.

And this is when the issue arose that would underlie our relationship – and unbeknownst to me would be something that would impact upon my dating life for quite a while. He told me he was Jewish and came from a fairly ‘Orthodox’ family. To me, Orthodox meant a black hatter Hasid from Golders Green, not the casual yet stylishly dressed guy in front of me. It turned out in Liverpool, where he was from, the majority of the Jewish community belonged to the ‘Orthodox’ synagogue which was actually a United synagogue and just meant that most congregants were observant, kept Shabbat, kept kosher, etc., but were religious on differing scales but very few were ‘frummers’ in the sense that I knew frummers in London.

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Ambi is a lawyer, expert commentator and author living in Los Angeles.