The Jewish East End

So todays post is slightly different from the norm. Similar in that I spent the day wandering around the east end but oddly enough not to spot street art.

You see today was Jewish Holocaust memorial day and the East End of London is an area with a rich Jewish history. In fact the areas very make up has been determined by the Jewish immigrants who settled here particularly from the late 1800’s and who set up businesses and homes. All around the east end there remain signs and clues of the presence of a sizeable community who only started to move out after the devastating bombing from the second world war destroyed homes and whole swathes of the East End of London.

A number of events were held but I decided to join a guided walk around the East End led by the ‘Jewish east end celebration society’. It’s purpose simply to preserve the heritage of the area. The walk itself was led by a man who wasn’t Jewish but who was an advocate of the impact the Jewish community has had on the development of this area.

Starting at Aldgate tube we stopped at Petticoat Lane, an area which became synonymous with clothing and textiles, at the time an industry dominated with Jewish tradesmen. We stopped outside gardiners corner where Oswald Mosleys black shirts congregated prior to the famous battle of Cable Street and which saw the British Union of Fascists turned away from marching through the east end, rebuffed as they were by a combination of Jews, dockers, communists and all sorts of others who opposed the fascist ideals in those days prior to world war 2.

Wandering down Commercial Road, Fieldgate Street, Vallance Road and many other streets it’s easy to get a feel for what life would have been like, even despite the fact that a lot of this part of London suffered terrible destruction, not only during the war but by the town planners of the years afterwards.

Now of course only a few active reminders of the Jewish community remain. Out of a 100 synagogues, only 4 are left, some in need of financial support and facing an uncertain future. In terms of population the whole area now only has 2000 people living there who would classify themselves as Jewish. Other communities have long since moved in and put their own stamp on the place whilst in the main the Jewish community moved out.

I think it’s this eclectic mix of history that really interests me about the east end. It’s not that there was once a thriving Jewish community, it’s that there were so many thriving communities at different points in history and each have left their mark. No matter where you go, every area and street will have a story to tell. For the Jewish East End the stories are there for all to hear, it’s just a case of listening.

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Star of David on Whitechapel Road above the door of the former process of the Jewish Daily Post