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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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Chapter 2: Boys’ Clubs, 1896–1939


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Boys’ Clubs, 1896–1939

A particular cause for concern within late nineteenth-century fears of the declining standards of British youth was the behaviour and appearance of teenage boys. The increased urbanization of the country, the perceived decline in the physical fitness of military recruits at the time of the Boer War and increased leisure time and expendable income created alarm that the country’s male youth was degenerating. As Brad Beavan has highlighted, these fears were linked with juvenile bad behaviour: ‘During the late nineteenth century youth delinquency became associated with wider anxieties related to increased urbanization, changes in work and leisure patterns and fears of imperial decline.’1 Many middle-class philanthropists believed that organized leisure was the way to counter these threats and clubs for boys over the age of 14 (the school leaving age) were established. Youth worker Charles Russell’s 1908 text, Working Lads’ Clubs, was seen as the definitive guide on how to run a group for young boys. He stated that these associations were founded with three objects, which were designed to counter the perceived threats: recreation, education and religion.2 This model, based on the successful working men’s club movement, was seen as key to regenerating British youth and improving the physical and mental fitness of young men.

As a result of such concerns, clubs were particularly located in areas with a large working-class population. London, for example, was home to many working boys’ clubs. As with...

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