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Blackpool Jews

A Spotlight Blog, written by Julia Pascal, PhD.

Blackpool. From 1945 to the late 1960s. What was it like growing up Jewish in this famous, English, working class mecca? Our parents and grandparents had come to the new boom town for fresh air, peace and to make families. By the mid- fifties, Jewish life had thrived in Blackpool for over a hundred years. By the twenty first century, the town had almost no Jews. In 2023, Blackpool has a reputation for a high suicide rate and poor mental health. Who now remembers the vibrant Jewish contribution to the town during Blackpool’s heyday? There is almost no archive on Blackpool Jewry. For this reason, I wanted to record a most particular English Jewish 20th century experience. I interviewed men and women in their seventies, eighties and nineties to absorb a sense of what their childhoods and adolescence had been.

Entry into this world was not difficult as I had a direct link. Although I was born in Manchester, most of my childhood was lived in Blackpool. My interest in the arts stems from early exposure to circus, seaside entertainment, dance and theatre. I am the granddaughter of Romanian Jews who had made it to Manchester and the daughter of an Irish Jewish father and English Jewish mother whose wedding present had been a semi-detached in Blackpool. Returning to the town in 2022 and 2023 allowed me to feel what that Jewish childhood was. Thanks to the Jewish Historical Society of England I had a mission to gather important moments from unknown Jewish lives and to meet those who still remembered the years of plenty.

Julia Pascal (née Marilyn Julia Fridjohn) at her fifth birthday party in Blackpool. Julia is the girl with the balloon.

When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties, Jews were the town’s largest ethnic minority. Jewish girls met one another in school and socially. Jewish study was unusual for most of them: it was their brothers who studied Torah. The boys were told that they would go on to professions their parents and grandparents could never have imagined. We girls were trained to see marriage and motherhood as the centre of our lives. Certainly we were no different from our Christian friends in this but as one interviewee remembers, ‘Christian boys were supposed to do what their fathers had done whereas we Jewish boys, were supposed to do better’.

All of those Blackpool Jews I met were Ashkenazim carrying stories of horror from Europe. Some interviews revealed shadows of the Shoah. But in our Blackpool childhoods, most of us who were born postwar felt far from pogrom or jackboot.

Most striking was how I became aware of class divisions between Blackpool Jews and how at times this mattered and at others it did not. It was new to me that there were Jewish landladies. I heard about how one landlady’s son was squeezed into a small room with his brothers so that summer visitors could be accommodated and household budgets could be supplemented.

I came away from this research understanding how Blackpool had been a safe haven for Jews in the lull between the end of the war and the future rise of English antisemitism. Blackpool Jews: an anomaly? Perhaps. But it was fun while it lasted.


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