Posts Tagged ‘jewish london’

London — By Andrea Kirkby on March 4, 2010 at 6:14 am
Filed under: jewish london, jewish museum, london museums

The Jewish Museum

On March 17, North London’s Jewish Museum will be relaunching, in its new home in Camden. It looks like it’s going to be something special.

Just one part of London's Jewish culture - and highly recommended! - the Brick Lane bagel shop

One of the things I hate about a lot of ‘Jewish tourism’ is that it focuses on the concept of Jews in Europe as the people who disappeared. It’s all a bit redolent of disaster tourism, for me. Auschwitz is part of the Jewish experience, true, but I also want to know about living Jewish people.

I think the Jewish Museum is going to deliver that. It has plenty of historic artefacts, but it also shows modern Jews in London and the diversity of their lives, from the taxi driver to the gay guy to the Orthodox to the young professional. There’s not just one way of being Jewish.

We’re promised an ‘ask the rabbi’ interactive feature, too, with answers from rabbis from four very different branches of Judaism. That should be interesting – the whole structure of the religion is founded on debate, in many ways, with the gradual accretion of comments on scripture in the Midrash; or as one Jewish friend of mine says, ‘Jews love to argue’. Rabbis particularly.

You’ll find some interesting by-ways of Jewish history here, such as an exhibit on the Jewish bare-knuckle boxers of the eighteenth century (Daniel Mendoza, who lived in Bethnal Green, is one of my London heroes).  You’ll find exhibits on Jewish involvement in the trades union movement, as ell as a magnificent seventeenth century Venetian ark, and stories of East End Jewish life.

And yes, there is a Holocaust exhibit – but for once, it’s based around the experience of a survivor, Leon Greenman, an Englishman who found himself and his family caught up in the Nazi pogrom. He survived Auschwitz; his wife and baby son didn’t. When he returned to England, he became a strong fighter against racism, speaking out against the National Front and visiting schools to talk about his experience. The exhibition also shows the lives of other survivors who came to England as refugees – finding this country a tolerant and hopeful place.

The Jewish museum has taken Leon Greenman’s message to heart. It will be hosting numerous events, and looking at its web site I notice that there will be poetry of exile with Linton Kwesi Johnson, the Jamaican-born British poet, and there’s a chance to get to know the story of a maharajah in exile (Duleep Singh, a favourite of Queen Victoria).  The diaspora is at the heart of Jewish experience in Britain, and this museum is opening its heart to all exiles, whatever their race or religion.

There is one poignant, and very special exhibit; a 13th century mikveh, or ritual bath. We actually know an awful lot about it, and its owner, Moses Crespin, who inherited a house in Milk Street, in the City, from his father Jacob. The Crespins were one of the great Jewish families of their time, and they built this mikveh in the cellar of their house – in a row of stone houses (high tech, at a time when most houses were still built in timber frame). Alas, Edward I, hard pressed for cash, chucked out the Jews in 1290, and took possession of their properties. Only one other mikveh has been discovered in England – not far from the Crespins’ house, in Gresham Street – so this really is a fascinating find.

The Jewish Museum, Albert Street, London NW1 (Camden Town tube station)[map]

When: Sun-Weds 10-5, Thurs 10-9, Fri 10-2

Photo by Fin Fahey on flickr

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