Page 118 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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I make my occasional pilgrimages to Whitechapel, which was
my boyhood home, and there are still whole streets that have
preserved their old Jewish character, including the mezuzah on
door after door. The Lane is still the same colourful place it
was in Zangwill’s day. I t still rouses the same nostalgia. Recently
the wireless put on a programme on the Lane, with its Jewish
stall-holders. Some of them have been at their pitches, they or
their parents, before Zangwill’s day. One stall-holder said he had
been there for fifty years and his father for sixty-five years before
him. There was another recent nostalgic programme on the
wireless, “Our East End,” in which some stage stars appeared
who came originally from Whitechapel: Bud Flanagan, Lionel
Bart, Bernard Bresslaw, David Kossoff, Lee Montague, Alfie Bass
and Jo Joseph. And that doesn’t exhaust the list of those who
could qualify for such a programme.
Last week the
Evening News
had an article about one of the
kosher restaurants in Whitechapel. It was full, and “we were
swept up in a stream of life. Everybody seemed to know every-
body else. You never know whom you will sit next to. It may
be Sir Isaac Wolfson or Frankie Vaughan, one of the Rothschilds
or Sophie Tucker or Orson Welles. They all come here when
in town.” It isn’t the only one. Ashley Smith, an old East Ender
Anglo-Jewish novelist, went back to the East End to write a
book about it, which is dedicated to me, and he mentions
“Baldy’s cafe, with a sign ‘Lokshen soup and buttered beigels’.”
He reports one young Jewish woman saying to him that she
was afraid at first of her non-Jewish neighbours. “I was afraid
to put up my mezuzah. We didn’t know what to expect. Now
my little girl plays with the Christian children. And I have put
up my mezuzah.”
Basil Henrique’s Jewish Settlement is still at work in White-
chapel. “The Jewish population of the East End is declining,
but it’s still there,” says Ashley Smith in his book. “And the
spirit of Jewry has made its unforgettable mark on the East
End.” Hitler’s bombs smashed up many of the streets, and new
skyscraper flats have gone up and are going up in their place.
It isn’t the old Whitechapel, packed like sardines with Jews.
“Ashley Smith doesn’t feel happy about all those clean modern
skyscrapers,” says Emanuel Litvinoff reviewing the book. “I t’s
the overcrowding that made you one big happy family. Ashley
Smith went back to get the feel of it again. He does get the
feel of it sometimes. He’s got a good pen. But you can see it
hurts him that things have changed.”
1 found much more than hurt in the book. I found in it the
guilt-complex we all feel who have moved away from the East
End and think that because we are not there no such place any
longer exists: “I was going to write stories about the people