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Reviews: A Place to Call my Jewish Home: Memories of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue 1911-2011, Pam Fox; Whatever Happened to British Jewish Studies? Tony Kushner and Hannah Ewence (eds.)

Emma Harris

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Reviews A Place to Call My Jewish Home: Memories of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue 1911-2011 , Pam Fox (London: The Liberal Jewish Synagogue, 201 i), ISBN 978-0-907443-09-4, pp. xviii + 443, £15. Whatever Happened to British Jewish Studies? Tony Kushner and Hannah Ewence, eds. (Edgware, Middlesex and Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2012), ISBN 978-085303-954-9, pp. xi + 404, £50. Birthday celebrants are congratulated on their special day. In the Jewish tra- dition they are blessed with the traditional prayer "May you live until 120", wishing them a long and healthy life. We see remarkably young-looking cen- tenarians gracing the pages of the Jewish Chronicle. Such personal milestones should, indeed, be commemorated and celebrated but does the Jewish com- munity value its institutions in the same way? Pam Fox has taken this point seriously and will delight readers with her book, A Place to Call My Jewish Home , which tells the remarkable hundred-year story of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue (LJS) in St John's Wood, London. Fox navigates readers through the LJS's history from its inception in 191 1 . More a work of commemoration than interpretation, Fox's book relies on and benefits from interviews con- ducted over the last two decades. This is certainly not a criticism of Fox, who is acutely aware that "people's memories are sometimes fallible and they remember things differently. I did not see this as a problem, but a reflection of the richness of the materials with which I have been working"1. This is an extremely important work that adds to Anglo-Jewry's wealth of commemo- rative volumes. As Rabbi John Rayner observes, "Memories and hopes, these are the staple diet of the Jewish spirit".2 Fox comments that "the history of the LJS is told through the eyes and in the words of LJS members and those closely associated with the synagogue".3 She provides a well deserved voice to those who have dedicated themselves to developing the LJS. Not only do the interviewees provide vital information for the historical narrative but they reflect on the future of the synagogue with hope, and readers can be assured that new chapters are already being written. Divided into three sections, the books begins with a chronological survey of the LJS, transporting its readers from the inception until the present day. The second part discusses various themes and issues spanning the syna- gogue's one hundred years from worship and service delivery to educational activities and volunteering. The LJS has helped shape Liberal Judaism in Britain for over a century. Working at the Woolf Institute (Cambridge), I was 1 Pam Fox, A Place to Call My Jewish Home: Memories of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue ign-2011 (London, 201 1), vii. 2 Ibid., v. 3 Ibid., vii. 235</page><page sequence="2">Reviews particularly interested to read the section on "interfaith dialogue". Beginning in the 1920s against the backdrop of the spread of fascism, the LJS played an important role in interfaith relations. Mutual ignorance can, so often, be the cause for conflict but the LJS sought to extend the hand of friendship and cooperation. The synagogue's interfaith work was expanded in the 1970s by Rabbi David Goldberg who helped to promote a tripartite dialogue with the LJS, St John's Church and the London Central Mosque in Regent's Park. The meetings were discontinued, however, "when they started to become a focal point for political discord"4 especially as Zaki Badawi, the first director of the mosque was, in Goldberg's words, "very outward-looking and had to overcome a lot of suspicion amongst his own flock, many of whom really did not want this connection with either the synagogue or the church. But he pre- vailed and the early meetings drew very large audiences".5 There were, of course, many successful interfaith ventures and the longevity of this work was recognized in 2010 when the LJS was awarded a grant by the Community Development Foundation's "Faiths in Action" Programme. Additional funding has enabled the LJS to appoint an Interfaith Consultant to further the development of this work. Given the strength and determination of the individuals involved in the LJS, we should expect to hear and read more about their interfaith endeavours. The final part of the book is dedicated to presenting the memories of those involved within the LJS, from congregants and professional staff to the rabbis and lay leaders. Pam Fox renders a deserv- ing tribute to the Jewish Liberal Synagogue and should be heartily com- mended for her book in which the content is consistently interesting and the style readable. A dedicated follower of the LJS, Fox shows how important it is to write about the creation and development of the community's institu- tions, to preserve its history for future generations and give hope to its con- tinuation. Fox's work is a powerful reminder of other centennial volumes that focused on, for example, the United Synagogue and the Federation of Synagogues.6 Her book helps to shed light on the newly edited anthology entitled Whatever Happened to British Jewish Studies?, showing that the field is alive and well, thriving in various genres. As a member of both the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) and the British Association of Jewish Studies (BAJS), and an alumna and former member of staff of the University College London (UCL) Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, my initial reaction to such a title was a defensive one. How can anyone ask this question? JHSE-hosted lectures and its journal feature articles on British 4 Ibid, 165. 5 Ibid. 6 Aubrey Newman, The United Synagogue, i8yo-igyo (London, 1977); Geoffrey Alderman, The Federation of Synagogues, i88j-iq8j (London, 1987). 236</page><page sequence="3">Reviews Jewish-related topics, the pages of the annually produced BAJS Bulletin provide details of current doctoral research, which includes various themes within British Jewish studies, not to mention the numerous pages featuring university course-related information offering students the opportunity to study some aspect of British Jewish studies, and UCL's historical significance within British Jewry should need no introduction. The book, edited by Tony Kushner and Hannah Ewence, provides a wide- ranging collection of essays examining the current position of British Jewish studies in the modern age. It is divided into four large segments that identify key issues within the study. The book serves as an excellent model for the cre- ative use of different methodological approaches ranging from literary criti- cism, cultural studies, oral history, legal studies, history, memory and heritage research. Although more academic in nature than Fox's work, it is nevertheless accessible to a wide readership. The chapters aim to enrich our understanding of and approach to British Jewish studies through the lens of history, antisemitism, philanthropy and culture, and provide a welcome contribution to a growing body of research in this field. Chapters include themes relating to Jews and military service in the First World War, Jewishness and Race Relations Law and British Jewish literature and culture. This fascinating collection of essays constitutes an extremely engaging and important contribution to British Jewish studies, setting a challenge to historians to take the study to new heights. "Whatever happened to British Jewish studies?" It is happening right now; from com- memorative works, like Fox's, that rely on the use of oral history, to Kushner and Ewence's edited book featuring the research of new and established his- torians of British Jewry. These two books further reinforce the value that both styles of writing bring to the future research on British Jewry. Fox's work is dedicated to Rosemary Lazarus (1935-2009); Kushner and Ewence's to Frank Cass (1930-2007) and Lloyd P. Gartner (1927-201 1). Rosemary Lazarus joined the LJS in the 1960s and was involved in many of its congregational activities. Frank Cass published many works relating to the Anglo-Jewish community (through his own imprint and Vallentine Mitchell) and Lloyd P. Gartner revolutionized our understanding of Jewish immigra- tion to England. Their memory, and those of many others, will live on through such dedication to further British Jewish studies. Emma Harris 237</page></plain_text>