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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 5: The West Central Jewish Girls’ Club, 1893–1939


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The West Central Jewish Girls’ Club, 1893–1939

The clubs looked at in previous chapters, and indeed all but a small minority of the Jewish youth groups in the early twentieth century, were formed in line with Orthodox Judaism. However, within London two of the largest clubs – the West Central Jewish Girls’ Club (WCGC) and the Oxford and St George’s Jewish Boys’ Club – existed not within Orthodox Judaism, but within Liberal Judaism. The following two chapters will look at these clubs in turn to show the ways in which the Liberal clubs were able to include religion, which reflected the ideals of the Liberal Jewish movement.

There are limited surviving records for the West Central club as most of these were destroyed in the Second World War when the club building was hit in an air raid. The documents that do remain are printed sources, including a number of books written by Lilian Montagu (the founder of the West Central Girls’ Clubs), newspapers from the Jewish community, records of sermons and a limited number of oral history testimonies of former club members conducted during the 1990s. Montagu wrote a number of books focusing on her religious and social work that provide a detailed (though somewhat idealized) explanation of the motives of her club work and her beliefs of the religious nature of the club. Whilst the documents used do not include a large amount of evidence from the members...

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