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Book Notes: A Century of Anglo-Jewish Life, 1870-1970, Salmond S. Levin (ed.)

H. J. Dyos

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Book Notes UNITED SYNAGOGUE, LONDON A Century of Anglo-Jewish Life 1870 1970. Lectures to commemorate the Centenary of the United Synagogue. Ed., Salmond S. Levin. London, The United Synagogue (1973). Pp. vii + 132. 8 plates. No price given. The focus for all but one of the eight lectures reprinted in this booklet is London. That remains, as it has always been, the metropolis of Anglo-Jewry, and the institution whose centenary they commemorate had originally been designated the United Metropolitan Congregation of Jews. Yet this symposium is far from embracing so vast a theme as its title portends and is at the same time rather too reticent about the role of the United Synagogue itself, presumably to avoid stealing the clothes of its historian-designate. To a Gentile reader the inner meaning of that institution, its religious cohesiveness and leadership, its relations with constituent synagogues, the scope of its educational and welfare provisions, must meanwhile remain something of a mystery?despite the lectures on its founding fathers, internecine disputes, aesthetics, and schooling. The chief interest for the urban historian lies in four of the lectures: Mr. Israel Finestein on the lay leadership, Dr. Vivian Lipman on the development of London Jewry, and Dr. A. N. Newman (in two lectures) on general historical circumstances and the direction of change. These show three things above all. F'irst, that the Jewish community?despite two very different waves of immigration from the Continent before 1914 and in the 1930s? was notably successful in absorbing the basic culture of the non-Jewish society in which it lived. Secondly, that it maintained a certain compactness of settlement whether in the original self-constituted ghetto of the East End or in a series of favourite suburbs in west, north-west, and north-east London. Thirdly, that the lay leadership of the United Synagogue at least was dominated throughout by a few of the older families. The more one looks the more completely immersed London Jewry becomes in the metropolitan middle class, and though it was the first city to have a substantial Jewish working class (and the first to see a trade union formed from its own faith), the impression remains that this was simply the first degree in a social continuum: 'Dalston and Canonbury,' explained Charles Booth, 'are the first steps upwards of the Whitechapel Jew.' The question is: Did Anglo-Jewry have any distinctive attributes as an urban rather than as a religious community? How, despite the religious demands to remain apart, was this acculturation so successfully sealed? Did the conditions of life in what to so many was an alien city mean a serious weakening in the hold of the faith ? The question is not so much what the multiplying ranks of Anglo-Jewry did to English society or how it reacted. That Lloyd Gartner and Bernard Gainer have told us, at least for London. The question rather is: What did the city do to them? These lectures were naturally not designed to tell us and it would certainly be necessary in any satisfactory answer to develop comparisons with other cities here and abroad and conceivably with other communities which owe their origins to recent immigration. The value of this unassuming, informative, readable little book is perhaps to remind us how useful properly documented accounts of Jewish institutions might be in developing a more systematic analysis of what American colleagues are now calling the churning up function of modern cities. (Professor) H. J. Dyos (Department of Economic History, University of Leicester.) (Reprinted by permission from the Urban History Year Book, Leicester University Press.) 216</page></plain_text>