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Miscellanies: The East End Conference and the East End Research Scheme - a Report

Aubrey Newman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The East End Conference and the East End Research Scheme - a Report AUBREY NEWMAN After the Jewish Historical Society had held a conference on provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain a full report was published in Transactions XXV, and in the final sentence a hope was expressed by Dr Vivian Lipman that in the comparatively near future there might be a conference on the East End of London and its daughter communities, covering the period 1840 to 1940. The 'near future' extended itself to five years, and there did not seem to be space for 'the daughter communities'; but on 22 October 1981 a conference was held on the Jewish East End, sponsored jointly by the Jewish East End Project of the Association for Jewish Youth and the Jewish Historical Society of England. It should be recorded that without the untiring and unceasing help of the project's development officer, Harriet Karsh, and the equally stimulating assist? ance of a large number of others associated with the project and the East End in general, the conference could never have been held. It was held in the East End itself, in the Stepney Jewish (B'nai B'rith) Club and Settlement; Ada Daitz made the premises available and superintended many of the practical details. But the stars of the conference were the participants, those who prepared papers and those who provided the audience and the participants in various seminars and workshops. The East End Conference followed the pattern of that previously held on the Victorian period in one important respect: it was intended to attract as wide an interest as possible. Members of the Society were sent a circular inviting their help and, if possible, the presentation of a paper. At the same time, residents of the East End, present and past, were also invited to participate in the general sessions, in the workshops, and in projects such as the 'oral evidence' groups. The intention was to show that the conference - and the Society-was interested in as broad a spectrum of life as existed in the East End itself. The result was to establish beyond all doubt that there is a very lively interest indeed in the subject, since far more people were expressing an interest than had been expected. It was equally encouraging that these were from all areas and occupations, and that many of them may hardly have heard of the Jewish Historical Society, far less have paid much attention to its activities. Interest was reflected also in the number and quality of the contributions offered; the range of subjects reflected the many aspects of life in the area. The raw materials of research - crime, lead? ing personalities, the patterns of life, institutions, politics, culture - all found a part in the proceed? ings, as did the memories of many of the inhabitants who participated. Discussions were lively, and subjects ranged from police officers who spoke fluent Hebrew to Jewish participation in the white slave trade. Two hundred took part, although that is but a minor proportion of those who could potentially have been involved, or who might be interested in any 'follow-up' envisaged. The aim of the papers was to study a restricted number of aspects of the area. The first was the 'geography' of the East End: the areas that could realistically be classed as 'the Jewish East End', how they changed over the century covered by the conference, and what sources of primary information exist for the people and persons. Having tried to examine the area, the discussion moved on to the patterns of everyday life. Individuals such as Brodetsky or Stern; crime and economics; individual family reconstruction - all led to vigorous discussion and argument. The second half of the conference dealt with the institutions of the East End - the boys' clubs, education, working men's clubs, housing, and synagogues - the politics of the area, and the culture of the East End, specifically including such elements of cross-culture as that represented by Isaac Rosenberg. Again the discussion which ensued was vigorous. Two postscripts to the confer? ence, on the post-war Council of Citizens and on the current Jewish East End Project of the Association for Jewish Youth, emphasized that there is still a considerable Jewish presence. One theme of discussion was that the initiative displayed in setting up the conference in the first 127</page><page sequence="2">128 Aubrey Newman place ought not to be neglected. This was in part displayed by the earnest hope that publication of the conference papers should not be delayed. Thanks to the very generous backing of a group of individuals who guaranteed publication costs, this was secured well within the year, and the oppor? tunity was taken of adding one or two items which ought to have been included in the original confer? ence, but which for various reasons had not been to hand. The other way in which the aims of the conference are to be maintained is by establishing an East End research project under the auspices of the two bodies which originally sponsored the conference. Those who are interested in the Jewish East End, either in an academic or in a less 'structured' way, will be put in touch with a number of research teams investigating specific problems. Help and guidance will be afforded, and it is hoped that as a result a picture of life over the whole period can be built up, that it might be possible to reconstruct family relationships, and that a clearer understanding of the part played by the East End in the history of London and national Jewry can be gathered. All this from one conference. Just as each of the two former conferences organized by the Jewish Historical Society has stimulated interest in particu? lar aspects of Anglo-Jewish history, the hope is expressed that this one too has revealed in the Anglo-Jewish community a deep interest in the ways in which it has come into being, stimulated a search for roots, and reminded us that the aim of the Society is to look to the rock from which we were hewn. The full report on the proceedings of the conference, The Jewish East End, 1840-193 9, is available from the secretary of the Jewish Historical Society, price ?7.50.</page></plain_text>