The Real Meaning of our Work?

Jewish Youth Clubs in the UK, 1880–1939

by Anne Holdorph (Author)
Monographs VIII, 236 Pages


Youth clubs like the Boys’ Brigade became a trend in the UK in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Jewish community in the UK began their own clubs to educate and entertain young Jews. These clubs mirrored the examples begun within the Christian community and adapted their models of social control by providing purposeful recreation, religious education and sporting activities to cultivate young minds and bodies. Much primary source material exists on these clubs, including publicity material provided by the clubs themselves as well as oral history accounts given by former members. This book looks at the records left behind by the Jewish clubs and asks to what extent they were successful in providing Jewish education to Jewish youth and how this education was defined by gender. The author ultimately argues that some religious elements were evident in these clubs and that where they were included, inclusive British identities were promoted.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Judaism, Masculinity and Femininity, 1880–1939
  • Immigration and the Anglo-Jewish Community
  • Education and the Clubs
  • Masculinity
  • Femininity
  • The Clubs
  • Chapter 1: Girls’ Clubs, 1886–1939
  • Background and Ethos
  • Religious Activities
  • Summer Holidays
  • Conclusion: Girls’ Clubs and Religion
  • Chapter 2: Boys’ Clubs, 1896–1939
  • Background and Ethos
  • Religious Activities
  • Summer Camps
  • Conclusion: Boys’ Clubs and Religion
  • Chapter 3: The Jewish Lads’ Brigade, 1895–1939
  • The Jewish Lads’ Brigade
  • Background and Ethos
  • Religious Activities
  • Summer Camps
  • The Chaplain
  • JLB and Religion
  • Chapter 4: Jewish Scout and Guide Groups, 1907–1939
  • Background and Ethos
  • Religious Activities
  • Summer Camps
  • The Council of Jewish Scouters and the Association for Jewish Girl Guides
  • Conclusion: Jewish Scouts, Guides and Religion
  • Uniformed Religion?
  • Chapter 5: The West Central Jewish Girls’ Club, 1893–1939
  • Background and Ethos
  • Religious Activities
  • Summer Holidays
  • West Central Girls’ Club and Religion
  • Chapter 6: The Oxford and St George’s Jewish Youth Club, 1913–1939
  • Background and Ethos
  • Religious Activities
  • Summer Camps
  • A Jewish Club?
  • Conclusion: The Oxford and St George’s Club and Religion
  • Conclusion: Religion in the Clubs
  • Bibliography
  • Section 1. Primary Sources
  • 1a. Archive Collections
  • 1b. Published Primary Sources
  • 1c. Printed and Electronic Ephemera
  • 1d. Newspapers
  • Section 2. Secondary Sources
  • Index

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The production of this book is indebted to Tony Kushner, who has provided constant support and guidance and without whom this book would not have been completed. I would also like to thank Joan Tumblety who has provided additional help and support. Thank you to the lovely people at Peter Lang and the anonymous reviewers who helped to turn this from a thesis into a book.

Thank you to the individuals and organisations who have supported this work financially: the University of Southampton, the Spalding Trust, the Catherine MacKichan Trust and the Stapley Trust. I would also like to thank Eleanor Quince for helping me to secure funding to complete this work.

Finally, I would like to thank my friends and family who have suffered through my PhD with me, in particular Lucy Hounsham, Becky Holdorph, Holly Dunbar, Kay Hughes, Emma Merriott, Emma Morris, Luke Hall, Ed Jellard and Charlotte Medland, who have provided much needed advice, guidance, proofreading and attention.

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Judaism, Masculinity and Femininity, 1880–1939

The end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century marked a key period in the creation of youth clubs across the UK, the most high profile of these being the Boys’ Brigade and the Scout and Guide Associations. From the 1880s clubs for girls and boys emerged in towns and cities. The clubs were primarily for those aged 14 and older, although some also catered for younger people. Philanthropists and social workers saw this age group as particularly vulnerable and in need of guidance. There were groups that catered for political interests, such as Zionism, groups that considered themselves to be educational and those that were social in nature. This book will focus on social clubs, which played a particularly important role, enabling philanthropists to exercise control, although not always successfully, over young people who were seen as particularly vulnerable to negative influences. Fears of deterioration of the British population, highlighted by perceived military failure in the Boer War and the poverty surveys of Booth and Rowntree, resulted in clubs for boys emphasizing military drill and physical fitness. Girls’ clubs emphasized moral and social purity. Many clubs included a religious element and were often explicitly supported by the churches. The Boys’ Brigade for example, placed an emphasis on ‘the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom’ and the Girls’ Friendly Society claimed a strong connection with the Anglican Church, boasting the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of its patrons.1 As a result of such Christian underpinning, Jewish youth were often excluded from these clubs. Wealthy Jewish ← 1 | 2 → philanthropists created their own clubs for Jewish youth, which mirrored those within the Christian community. Much like in Christian clubs, Jewish groups used religion in order to promote acceptable identities amongst young people.

Within the Jewish community, the process of creating acceptable identities had a particular focus on immigrant Jews, rather than solely on the working classes. As a result of the focus on immigrants, the process was termed at the time and in subsequent scholarship ‘Anglicization’. This was not a simplistic process. David Feldman has argued that there were a variety of ways in which competing bodies, including philanthropists, Zionists, and revolutionaries sought to exercise control over the immigrant population.2 The Yiddish newspaper Di Poylishe Yidel, for example, encouraged its readers to learn English in order to read certain literature to contribute to their revolutionary cause and the anarchist newspaper Der Arbayter Fraynd implored readers to unite with the English working classes and adopt their customs and language, while the Machzike Hadath, an organization to which some of the most religiously Orthodox belonged, believed that Anglicization was the duty of Jews who had been welcomed into England. This demonstrates that despite many similarities, including the importance of learning English, numerous institutions contributed to the process of Anglicization amongst the immigrant community.3 Tananbaum added to this by stating that the ways in which these groups targeted certain sections of immigrant society was nuanced by gender.4 It is the Anglicizing efforts of philanthropists that I will primarily refer to, in particular those philanthropists who came from the middle and upper-classes of Anglo-Jewry. Their efforts aimed not only to make immigrants into ‘Englishmen’ but were designed to ‘shape and cultivate [immigrants] ← 2 | 3 → in a mode and image that both Jews and Britons would applaud’.5 Indeed, communal institutions run by Anglo-Jewish elite, including youth clubs, adopted this ethos. Immigrants experienced this Anglicization from a number of institutions, from education to poor relief and Livshin noted that the combined efforts of Anglo-Jewry meant that the pressures were ‘too strong not to have their effect’.6 Her view, however, does not take into account the control that the immigrants were able to exert over the process and the meanings that they took from this. Those who had settled in the UK were not a homogenous group, but rather included a variety of ages, nationalities, religious observances and cultural traditions who left their homes for a number of reasons, primarily a combination of poverty and persecution. Most came from the Russian Empire and the majority of their children were either very young on arrival to the UK or born shortly after their arrival. Some were more traditional than others, and their politics were far from unified. Such variations meant that some were more eager to become Anglicized than others. Additionally, individuals were able to ‘resist the influences of institutions and messages they disliked’ through aligning themselves with one of the number of Anglicizing influences.7 As a result, immigrant Jews were not submissive participants in the process of Anglicization. For children and young people, this process is further complicated. Many young people, especially second generation immigrants and those who arrived as infants were keen to become more Anglicized, and as a result more modern, and exerted pressure over their parents to do the same. As a second generation immigrant living in Manchester recalled ‘we wanted to emancipate ourselves and to make ourselves more modern … and to get rid of all these old things’.8 In contrast, young people who arrived ← 3 | 4 → in the UK as older children or who were the eldest sibling often resisted Anglicizing influences, for example, by maintaining spoken Yiddish.9 The varied responses to Anglicization, both from adults and young people, has an impact on the study of Jewish youth clubs, in particular when looking at membership of the clubs – the voluntary membership of clubs likely did not include young people who were resisting Anglicizing elements. As a result, it is important to note that club membership was not necessarily an exact replica of the overall Jewish demographic.

The religious activities at Jewish boys’ and girls’ clubs reveal much about the nature of Jewish childhood in the UK before the Second World War, as well as pressures felt by the Jewish community as a whole. The period from the mid-1880s to 1939 witnessed the introduction, and later the growth of the various youth clubs, and as such provides a good period for the study of such groups. Religion will be defined, following Peter Connolly, as ‘any beliefs which involve the acceptance of a sacred, trans-empirical realm and any behaviours designed to affect a person’s relationship with that realm’.10 Whilst by no means the only definition of religion, it allows both belief and observances to be considered as a religious act, and thus includes the range of activities that the club leaders themselves viewed as ‘Jewish’ rather than purely secular. This study will look at religion in Jewish youth groups, including uniformed clubs such as the Jewish Lads’ Brigade and the Scouts and Guides, and examine the way in which religion was used to promote British (and within it, gendered) identities. The broad educative experiences of Jewish youth outside of formal schooling have been underrepresented in academic studies. This book will begin to address this gap and start to create a fuller picture of Jewish childhood. Not only did religious programming include activities designed to promote physical fitness and patriotism amongst all young people, it also sought to promote acceptable gender identities. I will use the term ‘religious programming’ to include any element of the clubs’ activities that contained a religious dimension using the Connolly’s definition mentioned. This study will contribute not only ← 4 | 5 → to the study of Jewish history, but also to childhood and youth studies, history and wider social history.

To successfully examine the influence of the clubs’ activities in promoting identities, it is important to look at the Anglo-Jewish community as a whole. The remainder of this section will explore British Jewry in the late nineteenth century. Influenced by the wave of mass immigration from Eastern Europe, the Jewish community in the UK was facing a time of intense change. By the early twentieth century, the existing community was working on behalf of immigrant Jews to provide social and economic assistance, combining Jewish and Victorian approaches to charity. I will examine the effect the immigrant community had on the Jewish population as a whole, exploring, in addition, gender identities within the UK and the Jewish sphere.

Immigration and the Anglo-Jewish Community

By the middle of the nineteenth century Jews in Great Britain had made progress towards social and political inclusion and acceptance. In 1829, Roman Catholics were admitted to parliament, which left the Jews as the only major religious minority who were still subject to political discrimination. From there, the struggle for full Jewish emancipation took approximately thirty years. Political discrimination officially ended in 1858 when Lionel de Rothschild was elected as the first Jewish Member of Parliament.11 The period following Rothschild’s election until the 1880s has been seen as ‘a golden age, when Jews were in harmony with their surroundings’.12 The Jewish community had gained not only the right to stand as MPs, but also ← 5 | 6 → to own land and enter into professions which had previously been barred to them as a consequence of the religious oaths required for entry.13 For the established Jews of the late nineteenth century, this progress was at the forefront of their minds. Faced with an influx of Eastern European Jewish immigration, which occurred between the 1880s and the First World War, middle and upper class Anglo-Jewry was naturally anxious to ensure they did not lose their freedom and status.

Between 1881 and 1914 the number of Jewish immigrants to the UK reached its peak with an estimated 120,000 to 150,000 Jews settling permanently in Britain.14 Primarily from Eastern Europe, the large number of impoverished ‘aliens’ who arrived created a Jewish community that was more visible than ever before. Established Anglo-Jewry considered the immigrant group a threat to the progress that had been made during the course of the century as the immigrants ‘reminded British Jews of their lowly and foreign born origins, worse still they reminded the Gentiles’.15 Those who had worked hard for political gains feared that the highly visible, poor and distinctly foreign looking immigrants would challenge the carefully cultivated Anglo-Jewish image, and thereby threaten the material and political benefits that came with it. The threat of the newly arrived immigrants was perceived as immense. For established Anglo-Jewry the religious and social identities of the immigrants was a matter that required immediate attention in order to protect their status in society. Tananbaum noted that ‘most Anglicizers directed their efforts at children or through their mothers’ as this achieved ‘rapid results’.16 They thus targeted differences between ‘native’ and ‘immigrant’ education and worship, especially with social policies that were highly gendered. ← 6 | 7 →

The style of religious worship of the immigrant Jews and Anglo-Jewry was very different. An ‘English’ synagogue service would have been an alien experience for the immigrant Jew:

The role of the Chief Rabbi was controversial amongst immigrants. In Eastern Europe Jewish communities typically had their own local rabbinical authority. The Chief Rabbi, however, viewed the whole of the British Empire as one large community. The position of the Chief Rabbi on many issues caused the immigrant community to develop feelings of distrust towards powerful figures within the Anglo-Jewish religious sphere. Specifically his conservative position on trade unions and his refusal to let rabbinical groups determine what constituted Kosher food resulted in the increased alienation of immigrant Jews from the religious praxis of the native-born Jews.18 For immigrant Jews, the very notion of the Chief Rabbi was different from their experiences of Judaism at ‘home’ and helped to increase the sense of distance between them and Anglo-Jewry.

The response of the immigrant Jewish community to the differences in worship was to introduce their own ‘native’ practices into their local communities. Chevrot (congregations held in homes or workshops) were popular amongst immigrants. A large number of these congregations were started in cities with high numbers of Jewish immigrants prior to the First World War, in particular London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. It is estimated that around half of the newcomers belonged to one of these groups.19 The presence of these large, rowdy congregations concerned the native population who believed the Chevrot promoted the image of the immigrant Jew as alien to British culture. As Gartner notes, ← 7 | 8 → ‘[t]he immigrant Chevrot commenced and usually remained small, clangorous and often dirty. The passion, length, noise and frequency of the services held there were quite incomprehensible to Englishmen and to most English Jews.’20 The Chevrot added to fears voiced in the press that the immigrant population posed a sanitation risk due to the cramped conditions in which the immigrants operated and ‘came to be seen as a direct threat to the stability of the native Jewish population’.21 The Chevrot became symbolic of all of the negative aspects of immigrant culture that the elite felt had no place in British society. For Anglo-Jewry, the promotion of acceptable and more restrained religion was important in the preservation of their own image. Elite Jews had a clear goal when promoting Anglicized religion to the immigrant populations: to make it feel less threatening and alien in order to encourage the immigrant Jews to worship in an acceptable British way. The Chevrot had to be reformed, as did other immigrant religious practices and structures.

Education and the Clubs

The education of young immigrant Jews was a particular concern for Anglo-Jewry. Chederim were a common feature of immigrant childhood. These were small educational groups popular in Eastern Europe, which provided religious instruction and, like the Chevrot, were quickly established in Jewish communities following the influx of immigrants. The Chederim provided a type of religious education that was inherently gendered. It was common for sons of new arrivals to enrol at a Cheder after their arrival in the UK and it was estimated that by 1891 approximately 2,000 boys aged between ← 8 | 9 → 5 and 15 were enrolled in such classes.22 In these establishments, boys were likely to be engaged in a variety of classes, ranging from Hebrew education to the study of the Pentateuch and Rabbinical commentaries.23 Girls were not provided with equivalent classes. The Talmud Torah, a less controversial educational establishment, provided similar classes for boys who, in the case of students at the Manchester Talmud Torah, would engage in 19 hours of study in addition to formal schooling.24 The amount and quality of education provided for boys contrasted with the minimal religious education given to girls. By the time a boy reached 13, the age of his Bar Mitzvah, he had received a comprehensive, if not inspiring, religious education. For girls, who at this time had no similar ritual within Orthodox Judaism, religious education was less structured and often provided by the mother.

The Cheder provided a Jewish education with which immigrant families were familiar. Native Jewry viewed the Chederim with the same distrust with which they viewed the Chevrot. The Jewish Chronicle, the organ of the Anglo-Jewish middle-classes and elite, commented that the Chederim should be shut down as the conditions in which they operated were appalling.25 Many children were crammed into one room and classes perceived as ‘un-British’, were carried out in Yiddish.

Settled Anglo-Jewry viewed the Chederim, along with the Chevrot, with contempt as their origins and the way in which they operated were unacceptable British social and educational traditions.26 As a result, young immigrant Jews were placed under scrutiny and seen to be in need of reform as much as (if not more than) adults. Providing a formal British education for young immigrants was seen as one of the most effective ways to Anglicize immigrants and counter the threat that the immigrant population posed to the position of Anglo-Jewry. Through education, it was hoped that immigrant children would be exposed to an Anglicizing influence and that they would pressure their parents into conforming. A more ← 9 | 10 → acceptable alternative to the Chederim was the Jewish schools operated by the Anglo-Jewish community and the board schools, which had predominantly Jewish students. The 1870 Education Act and the introduction of the Cowper-Temple Clause, which stated that instruction in Christianity was not compulsory and that parents could withdraw their children from religion classes, certainly altered the ways in which Jewish children received their education. Large numbers of Jewish children began to attend Jewish ‘Board Schools’. Approximately 85 per cent of immigrant children attended these schools, which employed large numbers of Jewish staff members and observed the Jewish calendar.27

The Board Schools, as well as the large community-run Jews’ Free School (JFS), were crucial organizations in exerting control over their pupils. Black has argued they were able to ‘shape and cultivate youth in a mode and image that both Jews and Britons would applaud’.28 The JFS encouraged Anglicization amongst its pupils by stressing the importance of speaking English and promoting traditionally ‘British’ manners. During the 1905 prize giving service, the head teacher, Louis B. Abrahams, adjured parents to help with the Anglicization process by encouraging them to keep children off the streets, to move to the suburbs and to stop the use of Yiddish in the home.29 The JFS attempted to reform children’s outward appearance as well and provided its male pupils with a full suit of clothing once a year and provided girls with clothing even more frequently.30 This provided a way to counter the image of immigrant Jews as poor and needy. For immigrant families, the idea that one could feel both a national and religious identity would have been a novelty, as in their home countries, Jews were often excluded from the ‘nation’ through their religion as non-Christians. By combining nationalistic and patriotic influences with its Jewish elements, the JFS was able to provide proof that notions of Jewishness and Britishness were not mutually exclusive; rather, both identities could work together in harmony. ← 10 | 11 →

Education was seen as a powerful tool to combat the negative reputation of newly-arrived immigrant Jews. Through education and indoctrination the schools were able to provide guidance to immigrant families on the acceptable ways in which to conduct themselves. Education, however, had its limits. Once a student left school and began work, often at the age of 14, he or she was subject to both the positive and negative influences of British society. Some discredited both themselves and the Jewish community as a whole by engaging in prostitution, visiting music halls, being a visible presence on the streets and participating in other ‘unwholesome’ activities. The renowned performer and comedian Bud Flanagan, who took part in shows at music halls across London, exemplified this.31 Youth clubs for young people run by wealthy Anglo-Jewry attempted to maintain some control over young people once they had left school and entered into the work force. The primary aims of these groups were twofold. First, and most obvious, was the desire to Anglicize their members by introducing them to behaviour necessary to adapt to British society, including sportsmanship for boys and etiquette for girls. Second, the clubs sought to exert influence over the religious observances of their members, encouraging club members to remain Jewish. The primary way in which the clubs combined these two goals was through the introduction of an Anglicized form of Judaism. As noted, immigrant families perceived Judaism practiced in Britain as alien to them. The clubs worked to break down that image. Club members were encouraged to attend the synagogue for the Sabbath services and on festivals. This had the result of introducing the members to Anglo-Judaism at the same time as drawing them away from the despised Chevrot. Through services and meetings, members were introduced to distinguished figures in Anglo-Judaism, such as the Chief Rabbi, in a setting that was familiar to them, helping the members to view the Rabbi in a positive light.32 As a result, clubs were seen by established Anglo-Jewry as an important element of the continuing education of Jewish youth. ← 11 | 12 →


VIII, 236
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (November)
Jewish history youth Clubs gender in young people
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. VIII, 236 pp.

Biographical notes

Anne Holdorph (Author)

Anne Holdorph holds a PhD in History from the University of Southampton. She also completed an MA in Jewish History and Culture at the same university.


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246 pages