Jewish History In East London

At the very center of our campus is the Novo Cemetery – a reminder of the rich Jewish history that surrounds East London. The contributions of Jewish people to the East End and London as a whole are significant.

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Jewish Heritage Fortnight gives our community the opportunity to recognise the history, contributions and heritage of the Jewish community. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to supporting Jewish people, educating ourselves on how to support the community and combat antisemitism. 

At the very centre of our campus is the Novo Cemetery – a reminder of the rich Jewish history that surrounds East London. This vast history began in the 15th century, when Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal as a result of religious persecution. The Novo Cemetery is the final resting place of over 2000 members of this community. By the mid-1600s, there were a few dozen Sephardic Jewish families living in East London.

The East End became home to hundreds more European Jewish refugees in the 1880s as they fled persecution. By the early 1900s, over 95% of the population of Wentworth Street was made up of Jewish immigrants. In fact, Spitalfields used to be known as “Little Jerusalem” and was one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. Yiddish signs and Jewish stores lined the streets and hundreds of synagogues were established. Amidst this, were many Jewish markets and institutions which made up a large commercial network. 

 

Contributions of the  Jewish Community 

The contributions of Jewish people to the East End and London as a whole are significant. As a result, Jewish heritage is inextricably linked to the history of the area around us. 

It is thought that the inspiration for fish and chips came from Jewish traditions. Fried fish was first introduced to the UK by Western Sephardic Jews in the East End. ‘Pescado frito’ is a type of fried fish coated in flour which was commonly prepared by those who settled in the 17th century.  

East London is home to many notable Jewish stores and restaurants. London’s popular Beigel Bake (est. 1974) on Brick Lane bakes over 7000 bagels a day and is open 24hrs. The traditional Jewish-style bagels are famous across London and attract long queues no matter the hour.  

Petticoat Lane Market is one of London’s oldest and most famous markets. It was first established in the 17th century by Jewish immigrants. 'The Lane', as it was known, soon gained the reputation of being a Jewish market where people could find Jewish goods such as kosher meats and unleavened cakes.  

The significant impacts made my British Jews to the United Kingdom extends beyond the commercial and cultural sectors. The Jewish community in the UK has made many notable contributions to the charitable and social care sectors as well. Numerous Jewish charities generously provide donations and support to vulnerable communities within the UK and beyond. One such example is the World Jewish Relief – a charity founded in London in the 1930s to aid Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-Europe. At the time, the charity succeeded in safely bringing over 65,000 refugees to the UK. Today, it continues to provide humanitarian aid to people of all denominations around the world with most recent efforts supporting Afghan refugees in the UK. 

 

Honoring Jewish Heritage Past and Present 

January 27th marks the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. This day serves as a reminder of the brutality of the Holocaust and the impact it still has today. As we take this fortnight to remember the atrocities of the past, we must also remember that the threat of antisemitism persists today. Many people in the Jewish community rightfully feel that they are under threat. In 2021, reports of antisemitic incidents in the UK reached a record high. As well, the online landscape is becoming increasingly antisemitic, with the UK’s independent advisor on antisemitism reporting "...an exponential increase in online hate and falsehoods...". It is everyone's duty to make sure that our Jewish community is protected and uplifted. This can start by educating ourselves and others about Jewish heritage and history – by learning from the past we can strive to do better for the future. It is also important to celebrate the contributions of Jewish people and support the community present-day through liberation campaigns such as this.  

 

To Learn More:

Jewish Heritage Fortnight
Holocaust Remembrance
Visit the Jewish Museum in London
Visit the Jewish Museum in London
 

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