Getting To The Heart Of The Community

12:00am Saturday 1st January 2000

Assistant curator Nick Lane -- focusing on a community and its history A picture portraying Jewish family life in Brent Enjoying a slice of ethnic diversity FACTS ABOUT JEWS o The Jewish community worldwide numbers 14 million, of which about 300,000 are in Britain, 250,000 in London.

o The first evidence of Jews in Britain is from Norman times, when Jewish merchants arrived from France.

o They were expelled at the end of the 13th century and invited back at the end of the 17th century.

o Up to that time, they were mainly Sephardim -- Jews from Spain and Portugal. From then on Jews from Poland and Germany began to arrive.

o The largest wave of Jewish immigrants to Britain came at the end of the 19th century from Eastern Europe escaping persecution.

o About 120,000 arrived in Britain between 1880 and 1914, settling in the East End of London, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and other cities.

o The Jewish community in Brent is on the move -- leaving traditional areas like Cricklewood, Willesden and Brondesbury to Neasden, Kingsbury, Kenton and Harrow. Brent has a tradition of being home to immigrants from all parts of the world.

The Grange Museum in Neasden is currently showing an exhibition celebrating 100 Years of Jewish Life in Brent. TONY LELIW reports. The writing was on the wall for all to see. That Britain was and is a safe haven for the persecuted, and a country free from terror.

A young Jewish person had written these thoughts as part of an exhibition about Jewish life in Brent at the Grange Museum of Community Life in Neasden Lane, Neasden.

"I'm quite happy to be in London and bring my kids up in London, not that I really want to stay in London but in a community which isn't in Israel, because at the moment Israel's a very dangerous place to be and London is definitely not a dangerous place to be.

"England and America I think, is where the Jewish future lies at the moment. I think that if my kids want to be Jewish, the best place for them to be Jewish is England and America. But a lot of my friends disagree with me."

For Nick Lane, assistant curator at Grange Museum, it is but one in a series of exhibitions reflecting the diverse multi-ethnicity of north west London. "We've done the Irish, Afro-Caribbean and Trinidadian and this one has received a very favourable response from the Jewish community."

Even non-Jews like Leonard and Fiona Hunt from Queens Gardens, who happened to be visiting, were suitably impressed. Mr Hunt said: "Having lived in Hendon for over 30 years I am familiar with Jewish culture and what we have seen is nothing strange to us. But it is extremely good and instructive, and very helpful for schoolchildren to learn about the customs of Jewish culture."

He took four months to put the Jewish exhibition together, which included interviewing people from the local community as young as nine and as old as 89. "The most interesting were the people who had escaped from Germany in the 1930s and had taken arms against the Germans," said Nick.

"The exhibition focuses on those things that make Jews different from other faiths and cultures. It looks at marriage, kitchen and cuisine and religious ceremonies. We could have covered other things but were limited by space."

A wedding dress worn by Mrs Pat Goodman on February 12 1961, at the North West End Synagogue is featured in a glass cabinet, while gefilte fish in jelled broth, and Kreplach soup make up the kitchen cupboards.

Non-Jews like myself, unfamiliar with the Jewish kitchen, are told that kosher means fit or correct. Meat and milk should be kept, prepared and eaten separately, so in kosher kitchens there are two sinks and two sets of plates and cutlery.

Photographs taken by schoolchildren include the Queen's coach at Horseguards Parade for the visit of the president of Israel in March 1997, taken by Yossi Freiberge, aged 11 and My Stepbrother, Gideon Jacobs, photographed by Tasmin Black, aged 10.

The most interesting thing about the exhibition is the historic facts it throws up. Prior to the war there was no Jewish Primary School in the area. In 1945 the North West London Jewish Day School opened in Willesden, but it was not until 1981 when the north of the borough got its Jewish school, when the Michael Sobell Sinai School appeared.

From the 1950s to the 1980s, one of Brent's MPs was Jewish, Reg Freeman. Since 1964, when Brent was established as a borough, there have been four Jewish mayors in Brent: Len Snow, Ernst Friedlander, Cyril Shaw and David Games.

The exhibition looks to the future of the community revealing its decline in numbers since the war, not giving figures, but saying that areas such as Harrow, Edgware, Colindale and Finchley have grown, while the existing communities in Willesden and Wembley have declined. Dollis Hill and Cricklewood have contracted while Neasden Synagogue has closed.

Under the heading A Changing Society, the exhibition tells visitors: "The period between the 1960s and the present day could be defined as one that juxtaposes a mature established community with major forces of change both within and without. The future decades will show how the community resolves these conflicts."

o 100 years of Jewish Life in Brent runs until Thursday, February 26. Admission is free. For more information ring: 0181 937 3600. A permanent exhibition called Brent People from the 1920s to the 1990s and including other ethnic minorities such as the Black and Asian communities and their impact on Brent can be found upstairs.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000.Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.

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