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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 6: The Oxford and St George’s Jewish Youth Club, 1913–1939


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The Oxford and St George’s Jewish Youth Club, 1913–1939

Born in 1890, the youngest of five children, Basil Henriques, like Lily Montagu from the West Central Girls’ Club, grew up in a background which emphasized religion and charity work. In contrast to Montagu’s Orthodox upbringing, Henriques was brought up in a Reform tradition where he ‘was taught to kneel in prayer, and understood Judaism to be based on faith and love of God rather than upon a body of ceremonies, all of which echoed contemporary Evangelical Protestant practices and left him almost entirely unfamiliar with those of Jewish Orthodoxy’.1 His early beliefs clearly resemble those of Liberal Judaism, and certainly enabled Henriques to develop the religious element in the Oxford and St George’s Club.

Henriques began the Oxford and St George’s Jewish Lads’ Club in 1913 with a total of twenty-five boys aged between 14 and 18. By 1939, the club had expanded to include a girls section and membership was at 3,000. After finishing his studies at Oxford, Henriques moved to St-George’s-in-the-East in London’s East End in order to create a club for boys, modelled on the time he spent volunteering at the Christian Oxford and Bermondsey Mission. The aspect that Henriques particularly admired was the way in which religion was used in everyday life at the mission, reflecting his own upbringing. He sought to create Jewish clubs that incorporated religion in the same way. At...

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