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Book Notes: A Documentary History of Jewish Immigrants in Britain 1840-1920, David Englander (ed.)

Tony Kushner

<plain_text><page sequence="1">A Documentary History of Jewish Immigrants in Britain, 1840-1920. Edited by David Englander (Leicester University Press, 1994) xv + 380 pp. The publication of the 150 documents in this excellent collection indicates how far the study of Jewish immigration has come in recent years. Indeed, a volume such as this would have been inconceivable just twenty years ago. Since then scholarship has moved on at remarkable speed - the work of Bill Fishman, Bill Williams, David Feldman, Rickie Burman, Anne Kershen and many others has built on the impressive foundation (which remained undeveloped for so long) laid by Lloyd Gartner in i960. David Englander writes in his introduction that 'this collection of original material is designed primarily for students of social history and those interested in Jewish Studies'. Again it is astonishing to reflect that as recendy as the 1970s there would have been no demand for such a book - at a university level British Jewish history had no place in a Jewish studies curriculum and social historians paid virtually no attention to any immigrant or minority group 275</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes in modern Britain. There are still, of course, serious limitations with regard to the teaching of British Jewish history, caused by lack of funding and a pervasive assumption that the subject is of only parochial concern; but these are now no longer serious enough to inhibit the success of a book such as Engl?nders. How far, however, does the author manage to fulfil his aim of indicating 'the range and richness of the material that is available, to convey some idea of the texture of life as it was lived, to enable readers to engage in historical debate and further study, and to encourage them to do so'? David Englander brings his skills as a leading British social historian, an able communicator and as a senior lecturer at the Open University to this volume. There are crisp and witty introductions to each of the nine sections, which vary in title from 'Getting a Living' to 'Religion', or from 'Education and Improvement' to 'Protest and Polities'. The strength of this collection derives from Englander's knowledge of official and social-survey material. There is important data, some unpublished, from the Charles Booth 'Life and Labour of the People in London' project, as well as evidence collected from Royal Commissions, government enquiries on health and labour, and secret intelligence reports from the police and security forces on alleged Jewish subversive activities. Englander knows this material well and introduces it with authority. His particular interests in Jewish irregular marriage and the status of immigrant Jews in the First World War are reflected in the volume with interesting documentation from general sources. There is, however, a bias in the volume, in that the majority of the documents are generated by outsiders (Jewish or non-Jewish) looking in at the immigrant quarter, and that there is a relative shortage of material created within the ghetto. This to some extent reflects the nature of the surviving evidence, but oral testi? monies, written memoirs and immigrant newspapers, although employed to good effect, could have been used far more extensively given the rich vein of material now available inside and outside the metropolis. Indeed, while clear and undis? guised bias towards London in this volume can be partially excused in terms of the numerical superiority of the East End in terms of immigrant settlement, and also the massive official documentation that exists for this area, the important collections in Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and especially in Manchester are ignored. On a national level the archives of the major Jewish organizations could also have been used far more - there is a focus on printed, as opposed to manu? script material in the volume as a whole. Moreover, from a pedagogic point of view I would have liked to have seen greater use being made of documents offering a contrasting perspective, forcing the student to think about questions of source material and objectivity. The reproduction of photographs and illustrations is very poor and will give the false impression that these are of no real importance in gaining insights into the dynamics of immigrant life. These are not minor quibbles, but they should not detract from the excellent qualities of David Englander's collection. The material chosen is always interest 276</page><page sequence="3">Book Notes ing, and he does succeed in enticing the reader to find out more about the subject matter. I will have no hesitation in recommending its paperback version to my undergraduate students, and see it as a volume that no one interested in the history of modern British Jewry should be without. Tony Kushner</page></plain_text>