The Days of Awe 2017

Here we are again.

Another year, another letter of turgid prose (as you can tell I’m still stinging from some of last year’s feedback – thanks Dan Iles).

It is once again that period of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (cutting it fine again as per usual), the Days of Awe in which Jews believe that the act of repentance, Teshuvah, is at it’s most potent. Although one should attempt to repent at any time in the year, life often gets in the way and, in part, the process of Teshuvah at this time is an attempt to cast one’s mind back through the year and repent of one’s sins or bad deeds. This process is important for two reasons, one because from a religious perspective it helps renew the connection to the divine, and in doing so continue one’s life for another year, and two because it helps to create righteous, loving, and moral connections between members of the community.

I write this letter to you because you are, in your own way, a vital member of my community.

This year, as in previous years, I began this process by looking back over my year to remember what has occurred and also read back through the previous letters from this time of year (all the way back to 2011!) and what struck me was twofold. One, how difficult it was to remember the central, personal events that have occurred to me in the past year from my diary, and secondly, how much space, in all their loquaciousness (‘I have the best words’?), the previous letters took up.

Why is this important? I think because, although you may laugh, the theme of this last year has been about trying to shut up, listen, and take up less space. In this year, perhaps highlighted by more newsworthy events, I have tried to realise how much space I have always taken up, and how little this has meant that I listen and respect the voices of a diverse range of people who may not be as privileged, and, in turn, as confident as I. This realisation may have earlier echoes in last year’s message, however since then the assumption that I might be an ally to those other voices has been somewhat tested, and I feel I have been found wanting in my lack of courage and my fear of action. As part of teshuvah, I regret this, desire it to change, and express it as a problem, part of a masculinity I would attempt to distance myself from.

Previous letters have always, albeit with many caveats (there’s another!), sought to frame, define or shape the space and discourse between us. They often sought to grasp at either wisdom or insight or perhaps merely project them. This year I would rather open the door to you, invite you in, and listen.

With this in mind I end this year on a quote of slightly less lofty pretensions (as previous letters had got rather, how should we say, up themselves) as Montell Jordan sings in one of my perennial favourites:

‘If you were from where I am from then you would know’

Well, I’m not exactly where you’re from, so tell me. Help bridge the gap between us. Tell me your story. Show me what there is to learn. Point the way towards a better future between us and in doing so secure further our little community within the loud voice of the world.

This is how we do it.

La Shana Tovah.

May you be inscribed in the book of life.

The Days of Awe 2016

Oh no. It’s that time again, only this time without any mentions (except this one) of my hairline.


We find ourselves, you in I, in the Days of Awe, that period of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur where one must engage with Teshuvah (repentance) in the process of atonement (or at-one-ment – props to Rabbi Danny Silverstein – perhaps more on this another year). As in previous years, before sitting down to write this I read through the messages I have written over the past 5 years that meander through profundity, pomposity, pretentiousness, and prolixity. In addition to my love for alliteration, I’m struck by the way these documents map my adult life and my changing attitude towards it. In this sense I hope that these letters not only help me to continually and critically engage with my life but also help map out our shared history. With that in mind I hope you engage with this so that together we can answer the questions I posed last year:

Are we who we want to be? How can we continually turn and face the world when it fails to match our hopes and dreams?

But what of this years’ sesquipedalian statement?

This year has seen many changes, from personal loss (Rest in Power Kay Ross), to changes in relationships and lifestyle that last Rosh Hashanah I would have never have foreseen. However these have not been wholly negative and there have been successes, particularly musically and academically (don’t worry I’m not going to plug anything!).

Reflecting on such a tumultuous period is difficult as these sudden changes challenge one’s ability to maintain a coherent sense of self, and subsequently make the writing of a perspicacious, insightful letter somewhat of a challenge.

As I noted the day after my Grandma died:

“Her death, in my small family, marks, for me, a destabilising final break with our roots in a past I can barely imagine, even though I only live a short way from where she grew up in Shoreditch a century ago.

Her later life shows vividly the negative power of patriarchy (sorry Grandpa Alan, really sticking the boot in here) as a form of oppression, and how the lifting of such bonds can lead to an amazing flowering of any person”

Yes that’s how far we’ve come; I’m quoting myself this year.

And although this seems self-aggrandising and ridiculous, it actually captures two of the forces that have consumed my attention this year. One is an attempt, although cast adrift (a familiar theme throughout previous years), to wrench the vessel of one’s life into known waters, but the second is how invisible and insidious oppression and bondage can be.

While the first is clearly a long running focus of these letters, one’s twenties themselves (life more generally?), and perhaps one of your life as well (?), the second has really come into to focus after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ sensational ‘Between the World and Me,’ and less pretentiously, and more personally, an interaction around this time last year. This has lead to the realisation that even though one can consider one’s self an enlightened ally, a partner, a fellow struggler, there can be many ways in which one can, through inaction and a form of stony male stillness and stubbornness, help to perpetuate a Pandora’s box of complex problems. These are often, to surprisingly quote Donald Rumsfeld:

Unknown unknowns.

By that I mean an example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect (hello!), where one mistakenly inflates one’s ability due to an inability to recognise one’s own incompetence.

Here I accuse myself. I’ve always thought myself a NJB (Nice Jewish Boy), relatively aware of my own shortcomings, biases, and their impact on others. But what this year has taught me is that not only are there huge swathes of personal experience, which I (an educated, middle-class, hetero-normative white-ish male) have no idea about, but that my impact on those around me may be opaque to me in a way that my short-sighted self-righteousness and self-confidence makes ever more invisible. In this sense it is my misguided belief in my own menschness that makes it difficult to see those times in which I fail to treat others with the same sort of Chesed (had to put a bit of explicitly Jewish material in!) that I would hope from them.

Where last year I spoke of my acceptance of the limitations that I knew, this year I ask for your acceptance of my limitations, that while perhaps visible to you, may be profoundly invisible to me. And while it may take many more years and letters to get to the point where I treat you with the humanity you deserve, I hope that you will endeavour to engage me, so that my eyes will be opened, and the once invisible will be brought to light.

In this way I hope that together we may help, not only to positively shape our lives, but in doing so help those that may be invisible to us. They may be friends of friends receiving transmuted and embellished advice, or colleagues for whom our support allows them to support, save and inspire others in ways in which I (perhaps we – although that would be somewhat presumptive) am far to cowardly to face. And in a year of fear mongering, chaos, fake tan, and unwieldy fascist comb over’s, strengthen the bonds that bind us together through honesty, bravery, and compassion.

La Shana Tovah

May you be inscribed in the book of life

The Days of Awe 2015


Another late arrival. Those Days of Awe are rushing to a close and Yom Kippur, the most holy day in the Jewish calendar is almost on us, and here I am attempting to write another letter to you.  

If you have never received one of these before then what a delight, we have become at least acquaintances and I hope friends within the last year! If you have then I hope that this message once again finds you well and with time and space to read.

Always at this time I send a message out to all those that I know and attempt to engage with them around a central concept at this time of year, Teshuvah (repentance).  This is a key religious act, an attempt to write the wrongs of the past and in doing so improve one’s own life and the lives of others, and so be inscribed in the Book of Life for the following year.

To start this process this year I read through all my previous New Year’s messages, which actually proved rather difficult as it necessitated looking through every message I had sent Simon Morley since Yom Kippur 2011, which in fact proved an enlightening process in itself and a timely reminder of the time I have spent over the years exchanging short videos of spectacular goals, wildly inaccurate observations about the emotional lives of others and a bewildering array of overused glossolalic-like exaltations such as bananas or immense.

I refuse to call this time wasted. This is wisdom.

While it’s possible that I sent a message earlier than 2011, I can’t find any evidence for one. Over the last two years in particular the messages have grown in scope, ambition, pretention and I hope quality (presenting me with a challenge this year!), but I do feel this year as if there might be a change in the wind, even though I am still worrying about my hairline (hopefully in a couple of years this won’t appear in these yearly missives, for your sake but sadly not mine).

Firstly I’m not sure if I have anything quite so grand to say or quote. Perhaps this connects with a current I sense in, or project onto, last year’s message, that of a narrowing of scope. This was expressed last year in terms of doubt. I was profoundly unsure whether I could solve any problems that arose from the messages I sent out. While I still doubt this (and now additionally doubt I could even fully perceive any problem brought to me), I feel a new perception rising in me that I am becoming slightly more comfortable with these limits. I am slowly coming round to the fact that this limited wisdom is a blessing in itself, a sign of a shift that I sense in my body and my mind.

It is on this note that I start my message proper. I have started to think that Yom Kippur this year signals a shift from young manhood into manhood (quiet down those at the back who ask, why has taken you until 27?), and that in this process I more fully manage to perceive my limitations than ever before. Whereas I previously raged internally at my limitations of body, mind and spirit, I know feel like rather this limitations are gradually uncovering, like the Golem in the riverbed, who I am, and through this process what is the wisest version of me I can realise.

This message is therefore an entreaty to you, whereas I have previously asked you to turn inwards for an essentially external locus (me, and our relationship), now I ask you to turn inwards as I do to ponder, your essence, your divine spark exiled at creation (if we may bend a view from Lurianic Kabbalah). Our lives can seem somehow so fleeting and so endless. The flow of news stories, pictures and sounds, nearly all profoundly and violently decontextualised, uprooted, can mean that the time one takes to truly appreciate oneself can feel fleeting. But push a little bit deeper, here at the core of one’s being is an essence that while in flux, steadies itself against the wind. This self is rarely considered, often weather-beaten by worries and vanity (don’t worry I’m speaking for myself here!) and the endless battering of pressures that attempt to impose internal change, externally. In these days of Teshuvah, ultimately what I ask you to do is strip away these external layers that keep us apart as a community, and through this process if you find a piece of our personal jigsaw where things do not interlock, then know that I wish to hear from you.

I will not have the wisdom to understand. I will not have the wisdom to solve.

So here we must turn to Robert Browning’s Rabbi Ben Ezra (which I rediscovered in my endless message trawl):

For thence,—a paradox

Which comforts while it mocks,—

Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:

What I aspired to be,

And was not, comforts me

Our incongruity will not provoke fear in me, as the many so visible crises around inevitably do, our own small (hopefully not wishful thinking here) issue, is but a reiteration of the statements of self that we make when we interact.

So I enjoin, come help me know the failure of my aspirations, help me know myself, and doing so I hope that we secure a bond between us that in some small way supports you in the completion of your righteous deeds, your Mitzvot. Let it help to rebuild our home, our community, and in this secure us against the unhomely that was last year’s focus. While this may not answer last year’s questions, (“Am I who I want to be? How can I continually turn and face the world when it fails to match my hopes and dreams?”) I now realise that perhaps these questions were too grand. I cannot hope to be who I want to be. I cannot hope to continually turn to face the world, let alone shape it in my finite wisdom. Instead I ask:

Are we who we want to be? How can we continually turn and face the world when it fails to match our hopes and dreams?

I hope in the following year, that we can together understand each better, and with this spirit of moral and ethical discourse turn to face this faltering world together.

So, to quote Browning again:

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be


La Shana Tovah

May you be inscribed in the book of life.


The Days of Awe 2014

Here we are again.

The days of awe are here, with Rosh Hashanah in full flight and Yom Kippur creeping up on me tonight, and still the message is yet written. And this year has an added weight as I have just read last years message again and have been surprised by its lucidity, breadth and quite frankly, length. Thanks to all those who got through last year’s verbosity and here’s to a New Year’s message shorter in word count but hopefully no less in relevance. [Also in fine Jewish tradition, this year’s message is in part a commentary on last year’s message!]

Reading the message of last year is a powerful one for me as I would echo much of its sentiments, although perhaps what is striking is the way in which it has presaged much of my feelings over the last year. Yes I am still fretting about my hairline, but I’m investing in hats and thinking about beards for my inevitably hairless future.

More importantly upon re-reading the comment on constantly feeling in flux it struck me that I was also either consciously or unconsciously invoking something I had read. This was a passage by Homi K. Bhabha quoted in Veit Erlmann’s article How Beautiful is Small? Music, Globalisation and the Aesthetics of the local (bear with me!)

To be unhomely, he writes, does not simply mean to be homeless. Unhomeliness is a condition in which the border between home and world becomes confused, in which the private and the public become part of each other. The home no longer remains the domain of domestic life, nor does the world simply become its counterpart.

The unhomely, Bhabha concludes, "is the shock of recognition of the world-in-the-home, the home-in-the-world."

[Also for those interested I can send this over, and I nearly just put this as a footnote in homage to one of my major David Foster Wallace based achievements this year until I realised that Facebook has yet to introduce footnotes]

Now ok, quoting this in this context is obscure, and perhaps needless but this idea has stuck with me a long time, a feeling like there is no homely place and the corresponding lack of clarity this creates in one’s life. In part, I feel it communicates the depth of the modern world’s incursion into the sacred, still and personal spaces of the self and of relationships, revealing the way in which the world’s relentless pace drains time away so fast that I find myself writing after another year in a heartbeat. This relentless velocity is deeply connected with the fractality of life, the splintering, the inability to keep hold of the shards, the precarity (whether financial, spiritual, emotional, etc), and vitally, the difficulty in centring oneself within the contexts of a rapidly moving web of social relationships. For me this seems key, and I have felt this powerfully this year (and this maybe be resonant for Londoners) that living in this space can feel like an endless blur, as bodies stream past dehumanised by their number.

No this is not another tangent. What I am trying to say (albeit long-windedly) is join me in trying to find Teshuvah, by listening.

While thinking about this message over the past week I felt often that this year has been a tiring one in part due to this endless outward pouring of words (ironically many as you can see from the above) and musical notes. I am aware, and those close to me are no doubt aware (apologies!), that mental health-wise this year has been very challenging and because of that I have been more extrovert even than usual, and more prone to talking endless about my own issues. So again, I enjoin you to listen with me. Try and stand still for an instant and really hear those around you, and in doing so be reminded of their humanity, and likewise awake empathy and find in yourselves, and in your relationship with them, a homeliness that is oft denied. I hope in the coming year to listen to you all, and in my greater silence hopefully come to a greater understanding of both you and myself. Whereas last year I spoke actively of actions reifying relationships and the importance of action in the process of making amends, this year I am less sure of the myself. I doubt I have the wisdom just to step in to solve a problem. So to really hammer this point home, I hope to be listening over this year, trying to really understand those around me, and in this understanding endeavour to be a better friend, a more righteous person, and hopefully a mensch.

To finish, I do not wish to speak of listening and silence without speaking of the great silence that comes before and after life. In the last couple of months I have lost, perhaps for the first time, someone I truly loved, my mother’s mother Irene. She was an inspiration, an artist and a cornerstone in the way I anchor myself to my identity. This event has shaken me somewhat and the timing of the event in particular, for it is on Yom Kippur that we become like that silence, still, neither eating or drinking, and in part this turn towards silence forces us to reconsider, who are we? Am I who I want to be? How can I continually turn and face the world when it fails to match my hopes and dreams? Or Kabbalistically how can we return the light of creation back to its source?

So in this brief silence on this most holy of days I hope that you find time to ponder, listen, consider and grow and secure further our little community within the loud voice of the world.

La Shana Tovah

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life


The Days of Awe 2013

It’s that time of year again for my New Year’s message, excited I assume?

I imagine the first thing you will do now is scroll down the page and see lots of words! Don’t be perturbed, please read on. I hope what I have written is both thought provoking and potentially vaguely amusing, although I accept annoyance might perhaps be the overriding emotion.

I have tried something different this year, more involved, attempting to provide some context for the message both religiously and for me personally. If you have received a message from me before you’ll no doubt have some idea of what this is about, but this year I have attempted something a little harder, more honest, and so in that spirit feel free to be honest with me if you wish to respond…


The Days of Awe


Once again (astonishingly early this year! Hannukah starts in November, wtf?) we find ourselves in the Days of Awe, and in particular the Ten Days of Teshuvah, a powerful time for repentance and transformation.

This is a period in which we awake from the dream that reality often becomes, an endlessly churning cycle of days and nights, meals, computer screens, compromises, kisses, tough work days, tough arguments and even tougher decisions. It is at this point, at that liminal space between summer and winter, one year’s waning and the other’s birth that our thoughts tend to turn inwards, as the summer’s light recedes and we sit behind misted windows that block out overcast skies. At this point, it can feel like a crisis moment, as the gaping chasm that is the future falls away ahead of us, and the past slowly ebbs away, the present can seem ever precarious, fraught by the infinitude of possibility. For me, I often become aware that I am increasingly unsure of who I am and how I got here.

Personally I feel as if my mid-20’s, I’m sure you can relate, is a time when this period of introspection and confusion is both particularly vivid and pertinent. It can strike one with an almost hallucinogenic sharpness at times when one visits a place one used to think of as home, and that flickering imperfection between the back-of-the-hand comfortable and the confusingly new, forces one to accept the nature of this period of transition. You may go home, but it no longer quite feels like home. This is just one example of thousands of shards of moments where the lack of clarity is the only thing with clarity. Where the way in which the pieces of our long concatenated chain of events and consequences hang together is abstruse, recondite, obscured, obfuscated, and other such brilliant synonyms.

Similarly who one is and what one does can seem similarly in flux, yet alone catching a glance of a face in a mirror or window and finding that the face staring back at you is your own, only not exactly as you remember. For me it these physical signs of change that I have found difficult to deal with over the past year (sorry to those who have heard me moaning about my hairline), as they constantly re-affirm both change and my adult nature that I feel can no longer cower behind some shield of youth. Now is time to take in hand who I am and who I want to be, yet that challenge can feel monumental, stretching up, a bleak and unassailable peak.

Take heart, such feelings are common during Teshuvah where we wrestle with the fractal shapes our actions make, splintering out around us, trying to make some sense of the world, our place in it, and how we can effect some small change in it for the better, if such a word has any meaning. But change at this time is not only external, for in Jewish tradition it is said that this is the period of time where God writes the names for the coming year in the Book of Life, and in the Book of Death. This is often taken very literally but it is perhaps more helpful to think (props to Rabbi Alan Lew) not that the repentance we do during this time allows us the blessing of life, rather the transformation that occurs allows us to come to terms with all that may happen.

If you have got this far, thank you for investing your time however unusual you may be finding this, but don’t worry this is all going somewhere…

A part of acceptance and realisation is coming to terms with both ones actions and the events that one finds oneself standing in the middle of, as if suddenly caught by a gust of wind. Time is both cyclic and linear, we can get trapped into patterns of behaviour that can be cut into ever deeper grooves, and can feel as solid as the stony metaphor I am attempting to paint here. Here it comes back to me and you, have events so conspired that there is something we need talk about? Whether this year or another, have small glimpses of moments built up over time, or has perhaps a single event occurred such that you feel we could improve whatever relationship we have by talking and seeking to set the record straight?

If so, do contact me, and I will endeavour, in a far less earnest and pompous way, to do what I can to sort things out.

But, perhaps more positively, is there any way we can work together to grasp close who we both want to be. This year I want not only to passively sit and try and solve those challenges that come to me, I want to, with you if we may, go forward and with a strong right hand (Passover allusion there for those not in the know, for those in the know that’s a referential rhetorical device) brave the challenge together.

Sorry for more pomposity at the end.

La Shana Tovah,

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.


The Days of Awe 2012

For those with a good memory, we are yet again in the Days of Awe, the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and this means that I send out another email. For those that have received one of these before, yes this will be roughly similar…


For those who have not, this is a time of reflection and repentance. One attempts to make right the wrongs committed during the year with the reward of being inscribed in the Book of Life for another year (i.e. survival!). With this spirit in mind, I write to you to say feel free to answer this message with any problems with me you may have had this year or in the past.


I may have questioned your grammar or pronunciation of words, perhaps belittled the novel you are currently reading and tried to claim that you should be reading some high minded (read pretentious) one instead, perhaps singing over you when you are singing, or my clumsy lack of tact or just general arrogance. Whether big or small, I will endeavour in whatever way I can to sort out these issues.


In an attempt to introspect, my opinion is that this year has been particularly bad for neglect, throughout this Masters I have generally not contacted many of my friends, which I should of, and if this impacted on you please bring it to my attention and I will attempt to rectify it!


La Shana Tovah

The Days of Awe 2011

Well this year I have left it a bit late, but hot on the heels of this email Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the Jewish New Year kicks off!


We come to the end of Yamim Nora'im, during which I really should have sent this email. Regardless, this email is really about forgiveness. I am fully aware that I am someone who at even the best of times can be at least irritating, or worse, self-righteous, arrogant, patronising and especially TARDY, etc. So this message is really apologising for all those shortcomings in general but also for any specific deeds that I may have committed throughout the year, I may have insulted your music taste, or danced too close to you, insulted your girlfriend/boyfriend/friend/mother/brother/father/dog/squirrel or perhaps bored you by telling for the umpteenth time how good Studio One and the books of Saul Bellow are.


Whatever is I might have done, I hope you can forgive me and if there is anything I can do to rectify any situation please message me and inform me! Regardless of whether you believe or agree with the religious importance of Yom Kippur, I still think this self-critique is important in evaluating last year to make the coming year even better.

I hope you have an incredible year, from the way my first week at SOAS is shaping up it looks like I have something really great coming my way, the joy of which I hope I can share with you.


May you be inscribed in the book of life.