President's Letter March 2022


It is March, it is spring, and the world is in sad turmoil. Throughout over a fortnight, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been taking place in a terrain familiar to those interested in Jewish history. The cities now being mercilessly bombed were once also centres of Jewish culture, and others were infamous cites of pogroms. From these lands, and others in the region, where the bulk of European Jewry lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of our ancestors made their way to the UK, across the Atlantic, and to southern Africa. Philippe Sands’ brilliant book, East West Street, describes how those European communities came to an end. The situation calls for immediate humanitarian engagement, but also for long-term reflection on democracy and the cost of defending it. As we think about displaced people, some of you may be interested in a workshop – free and online – offered by the London Jewish Museum on 24 March 2022, about the Jews’ Temporary Shelter: an organisation that supported displaced Jews and whose archives are held by the museum: https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/event/the-lines-of-a-new-horizon-mapping-the-jews-temporary-shelter/ Such momentous events make our regular concerns seem mundane. During the last few years, we have thought a lot about our public spaces and what we display in them: offensive statutes have been removed, and greater attention has been paid to what and how we display items in museums.. Some warn that ‘cancel culture’ is upon us, and yet the process is mostly a healthy one. Monuments are not only being removed or re-labelled, but also added. A great example is the unveiling last month of the statue of a thirteenth century businesswoman from Winchester, Licoricia, and her son. We know a great deal about her because she and her family were important financiers and their wealth was recorded in great detail by the Crown: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2022/feb/09/prince-charles-unveil-statue-jewish-businesswoman-licoricia-winchester The statue has been planned for several years and it brought together a committee of enthusiasts with Hampshire County Council and local teachers. Its aim is to celebrate diversity, women’s work, a long tradition of trade in Winchester. Two units in local history for schools were developed with teachers and I had the chance to contribute to them. This year we have to wait until mid-April to celebrate Pesach, and those who attended Chris Mitchell’s President’s Lecture in late February know why. This was a fascinating talk about the history of the Jewish calendar and its relations to calendars of other cultures over millennia. In preparation for the spring festival, I have invited Eva Frojmovic to speak to us about early Haggadah manuscripts. Here are the details for that and for the following lecture:

  • Thursday, 24 March 2022, 8pm - Launch of Pam Fox’s new Jews by the Seaside

  • Thursday, 7 April 2022, 8pm – Professor Eva Frojmovic (University of Leeds) – Men and Women and the Medieval Sephardi Seder Table

Please consult our website for many more offerings organised by our branches. All these events are free to members, and guests are welcome to join for a modest fee. I am delighted to report that the efforts to redesign our website are bearing fruit. I have recently had the pleasure of joining the ‘building site’, the product of Trustee Michael Schraer’s work on behalf of the Board of Trustees and with the expert developers. When the website is launched, we will seek your comments so we can effectively troubleshoot and improve it. So, watch this space! Keep safe, be kind, and join us at JHSE events. Miri Rubin, President of the JHSE