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The Real Meaning of our Work?

Jewish Youth Clubs in the UK, 1880–1939

Anne Holdorph

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.

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Conclusion: Religion in the Clubs


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Religion in the Clubs

Jewish youth clubs played an important role within late nineteenth and early twentieth century British Jewish society. The groups served to provide links between British Jews who financed and ran the organizations and immigrants and their children who were the club members. This connection was not neutral but was of a patriarchal kind, where Anglo-Jewry were able to exert social control over young, impoverished Jews by guiding them to live in what wealthier classes considered to be a respectable way, that is to say, in a manner that corresponded to upper- and middle- class British expectations. The clubs were also important in instilling a sense of patriotism and national pride amongst the young, which established British Jewry deemed to be in need amongst the immigrants. Additionally, the clubs sought to cultivate and present a positive image of Jewish youth, which fell in line with idealized versions of British behaviour. Overall, the clubs aimed to exert social control over young people, including the religious observance of its members. Indeed, club managers sought to promote a highly Anglicized form of religion which corresponded closely to gender norms for both boys and girls, respectively.

Despite the numerous clubs in existence prior to 1939 and the varieties of geographical locations and religious affiliations (whether Liberal or Orthodox), religious programming was remarkably similar, which indicates that a particular affiliation did not impact on religion to a great extent. The Jewish Lads’...

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