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London, England (archives) Photo: GPO
London, England (archives) Photo: GPO

Exploring London's Jewish West End

At its peak in late 19th century, about 25,000 Jews moved to British capital's West End areas from East End of London, Eastern Europe. Yiddish was predominant language heard on streets

Published: 08.20.13, 07:46 / Israel Jewish Scene

VIDEO – The history of the Jewish East End is well-documented, but few know the history of the Jewish West End. At its peak in the late 19th century, about 25,000 Jews moved here from the East End of London and Eastern Europe and Yiddish was the predominant language heard on these streets.


Video courtesy of jn1.tv


London’s core, Soho, unites all four corners of the metropolis and seduces both locals and visitors alike.


Bars, clubs, theater, and even a red light district.


First up is Soho Square – an oasis of serenity in the capital’s hectic center. But few people know the square’s Jewish roots – from London’s first women’s only hospital to the entertainment capital of the city.

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"That particular hospital had a strong association with the Jewish community,' says Jewish West End Walks guide Phil Walker. "If you look in early editions of) the Jewish Chronicle, there are lots of articles of Jewish families, well known wealthy Jewish families, lending their support to the Jewish women's hospital, so it was a very important institution for local Jewish people and of course other people.


"Although most people wouldn’t know about Michael Balkin, they would’ve heard perhaps about some of his descendants. His son-in-law was Irish poet C.S. Lewis and his grandson is Daniel Day Lewis.”


Like their brethren in the East End, many Jews in the West End were also tailors.


But unlike the East End, there were particular ladies here who would bring in customers into a shop which sold everything from high-end clothing to other wares.


Next up Phil takes us to a former synagogue of which he held a surprise souvenir.


“This is one of the many synagogues that clustered around Soho Square," he says. "This particular one is called the West End Bikkur Holim Talmud Torah, which means the place you come and study Talmud and the Jewish religion.


"I have here a siddur (Jewish prayer book), which was given to me by the daughter of one of the important men that used to be involved in running this particular synagogue behind me.”


The Westminster Jewish Free School closed in the 1940s because most of the population had moved to green, leafy suburbs, effectively marking an end to Jewish life in Soho.



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