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Book Notes: Scenes and Personalities in ~Anglo-Jewry 1800-2000, Israel Finestein

Gerry Black

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Book Notes Scenes and Personalities in Anglo-Jewry 1800-2000, Israel Finestein (Vallentine Mitchell 2002) isbn 0-85303-442-7, xiv + 265 pp. There are only a handful of people who can claim to have been researching and writing, and to have been published consistently, on the subject of Anglo-Jewish history for more than fifty years, and Judge Finestein is one of them. What marks him out as unique, however, is that he has been an active participant in the development of many of the institutions about which he writes. He has been a President, Vice-President, Chairman, Founder, Governor or Council Member of the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Historical Society of England, the Hillel Foundation, Norwood Child Care, the Jews' Free School, Jews' College, the United Synagogue, the Jewish Memorial Council, the Association for Jewish Youth, the Jewish Museum, the World Jewish Council, British Ort, Jewish Care, Jewish/Christian committees, many Israeli and international Jewish organ? izations and remains active in them. He therefore has the advantage of a working, as opposed to an academic, knowledge of many of Anglo-Jewry's institutions and has enjoyed a close relationship with its leaders. Those who undertake to govern and guide the Jewish community are to some extent engaged on a mission impossible - as Israel Finestein as said, the Anglo-Jewish community is not a single body but a community of communities, in which for every two Jews there are three opinions. Fortunately for the community there have been, persons bold, brave or perhaps foolhardy enough to undertake the task over the past 200 years covered by this book. For the most part the great family dynasties of the Rothschilds, Montefiores, Samuels, Cohens and others during the nineteenth century, and the descendants of the immigrants of the 1880s and 1890s during the twentieth century, have led the way. Although mistakes have doubtless been made, the community has on the whole been well served by them, and Anglo-Jewry can be proud of the institutions it has built. Only hindsight can tell us whether the decisions and actions made years before were right or wrong. What is so welcome in this book is that Israel Finestein, in appraising the efforts of these men and women, judges their actions in the context of what was known at the time, and appreciates that there were limits to their ability to influence events. Though critical at times, he takes care not to condemn or criticize them for failing to do what they had no power to do, or for not knowing what was unknown and unknowable. His research is accurate and his footnote references can be implicitly trusted. Although he is not an academic historian attached to a university - he has always had a day job - everything he does is thoroughly professional. Here he deals with the changing scene both within the community and 209</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes outside it, combining scholarly detachment with, as Professor Klier describes it, an insider's knowledge of the rough and tumble of Jewish com? munal life. He has a profound understanding of the community's strengths and weaknesses, encouraging the former, drawing attention to the latter and suggesting a way forward. Here he brings together the various strands of Jewish life - religious, political, educational and sociological - into a coher? ent whole, showing how they interact each with the other. This book is a distillation of a lifetime's work, including chapters written more than fifty years ago and others produced especially for the book. What is most striking is how well his writings have stood the test of time. Three articles on the Board of Deputies were written at the end of the 1940s when he was, in his own words, 'a young and doubtless impressionable member of the Board'. But we can now see how perceptive his observations were, and the continuing relevance of his remarks. Two new chapters are entitled 'The Changing Governance of Anglo-Jewry between 1950 and 2000', and 'Anglo-Jewish Attitudes to Jewish Day School Education, 1850 2000'. There are others on Israel Zangwill, Isaiah Berlin, the lay leadership of the United Synagogue, Selig Brodetsky, the prodigy from Fashion Street, and Jewish Emancipation and Jewish National Identity. The book can be highly recommended. Gerry Black</page></plain_text>

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