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Introducing Tsitsit, the Jewish Fringe

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Alastair Falk tells us about a new initiative and wants your support.

You will know the feeling.

It’s the Edinburgh Fringe and there’s this huge list of performances which you are desperately working out how to choose what to try and see.

Of course, for Jews it’s always slightly easier: just look for shows that have something Jewish in their name or description and, failing that (like Ozzie’s mother in Philip Roth’s Conversion of the Jews) just look for Jewish names.

But what if you could gather together a range of musicians, comedians and performing artists and knew that all of them had some kind of Jewish flavour?

Welcome to the world’s first Jewish fringe festival called, somewhat inevitably, Tsitsit.

Over four consecutive Sundays in June 2021 we will be bringing together the widest possible range of Jewishly focused performances.

Those of you familiar with fringe festivals will know they are a joyous celebration of the talented, the hopeful and the hopeless.

In the words of the Guide to starting your own fringe (I kid you not) ‘a fringe is a grassroots Festival where the ethos is “If you want to do it you can”.’

Tsitsit Fringe will absolutely embrace that ethos, with the added Jewish ethos of ‘but my mother said I was so talented’. It’s true that most fringes also are linked to a specific place, but one of the other things that will make Tsitsit special is that it wants to reflect the diverse nature of Jewish settlement in the UK.

So Tsitsit will be a dispersed fringe, taking place initially over four Sundays so we can celebrate and bring Jewish life and culture to and from the four corners (see what we did there?) of the UK and beyond.

As well as Jewish geographies, we are keen to re-engage with some lesser-known Jewish histories. Like Israel Zangwill and his wife Edith Ayrton, whose blue plaque in the town of East Preston where they lived, commemorates their contribution to ‘women’s suffrage, a Jewish homeland and world peace.’

Edith was, in fact, one of the founders of the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage and we would love to see some theatre or musical work developed around that often neglected history.

Or Henry Levy, Brighton’s Jewish chief constable, who was murdered in 1844 in his own police station while trying to arrest a carpet thief.

There are just so many stories waiting for a creative response, and one of the key aims of Tsitsit is to raise money to commission new pieces of Jewish performance.

By now, even if you think you like the idea, you will probably be asking yourself (and getting ready to have an argument about it) ‘ah yes, but what do they mean by Jewish?’  

If this were the Jewish Quarterly, then I’d answer with Franz Rosenzweig’s ‘nothing Jewish is alien to me’.

But for JewTh!nk, Lenny Bruce’s riff on what is Jewish and what is goyish is probably closer to our intended audiences.

So, as Rav Lenny said, ‘fruit salad is Jewish’. Or, as we like to say at Tsitsit ‘if it’s Jewish enough for you, it’s Jewish enough for us.’

There are actually five categories we are looking to put on in this opening year: theatre (including musical theatre and spoken word), music, comedy, family and On The Other Hand for stuff that doesn’t really fit anywhere else.

Hopefully, we can all be back to enjoying live performances in person by then, but we are anyway linking up with a great site called scenesaver.co.uk, to stream shows and to try and achieve one of our other aims, creating a snapshot of contemporary Jewish culture.

We have also been talking to JewTh!nk about running a parallel festival of Jewish fringe ideas.

Finally, we are looking not just for performers, but also for volunteers to help make Tsitsit happen and, of course, to do a bit of fundraising by encouraging people to donate through our crowdfunding page (what? You thought you’d get all the way through reading this without an appeal?).

Diverse, dispersed and democratic, Tsitsit Fringe will showcase the variety of how Jews are expressing their Jewishness in a hopefully post-Covid 2021.

Full details about how to sign up as a performer, volunteer or simply potential audience member, can be found at our website www.tsitsitfringe.org.

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Alastair Falk has been a Head of three schools, Chief Executive of the Birmingham Education Partnership and founding Director of Partnerships for Jewish Schools. He now works as a consultant to a campaign for a longer-term approach to English education policy.
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