Chapter 5 - Joining East End cultural and communal associations

by Jason Lever

Posted on Sun, 01 Dec 2013 17:05:35 GMT

Involvement in Toynbee Hall and The Workers’ Circle

Between 1870 and 1914, secularisation and assimilation in the Jewish East End meant the synagogue gradually lost the undisputed place it had occupied in the Russian Pale of Settlement as ‘the hub of communal and cultural life’ (ref: Gartner).

The great novelist, Israel Zangwill, in “Children of the Ghetto” (1892), could still describe the East End synagogue as ‘their salon and their lecture hall. It supplied them not only with their religion, but their art and letters, their politics and their public amusements’.

However, by the 1930s, ‘many of the religious traditions and observances which the immigrants had brought with them had lapsed’ (ref: Fishman, 1979). Instead, a significant minority – including Solomon – were finding space to pursue educational, political and cultural activities through institutions such as Toynbee Hall and the Workers’ Circle.

Settlements like Toynbee Hall were established with substantial Jewish immigrant participation in their educational and cultural activities (ref: Gartner). James Mallon CH was a long-serving Warden (1919 to 1954) and he headed the Council of Citizens of East London which united a number of anti-fascist groups (ref: Sokoloff). Solomon Lever was likely to have been involved in various activities at Toynbee Hall, which founded the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1901. Solomon later became a Trustee of the Galley.

Pre-emigration, one prominent response of eastern European Jews to ‘increasing securalisation and modernisation [was] Yiddishism, the ethnic and cultural programmes of the Marxist Jewish Bund’ – in full, the General Jewish Labour Alliance in Russia, Poland and Lithuania! (ref: Srebnik). Hence the founding in London’s East End of the Workers’ Circle (Der Arbeitering) – and often referred to just as “The Circle” – in Alie Street by Jewish immigrant workmen. It was different to other mutual aid organisations in being a workers’ organisation – as it described itself, 'an order of workers for workers, and for progressive thought' (Ref: Rocker).

By 1921 there were over 1,000 members and nearly 3,000 by 1935. Charles Poulsen, in “Scenes from a Stepney Youth”, described it as a ‘social and educational centre [plus friendly society]… [for] tailors, pressers, machinists, cabinetmakers – all the gamut of local trades’ (ref: Poulsen). An interviewee in “Our East End” recalls that each room in the big house ‘was a different union or different organisation’ (ref: Dudgeon).

Active Workers’ Circle members including Solomon Lever are cited among the participants in the opening of a folk house on Adler Street in 1943 by the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists (ref: Srebnik). Solomon was in Branch One and on the central Management Committee.

Jewish-Immigrant Toynbee-Hall Workers-Circle

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Chapter 1 - Introducing Solomon Lever and his l...Chapter 2 - The Jewish East EndChapter 3 - A family history of Solomon LeverChapter 4 - A Jewish East End education for Sol...Chapter 5 - Joining East End cultural and commu...Chapter 6 - Solomon as a cabinet makerChapter 7 – From cabinet maker to trade union g...Chapter 8 – Rise of the London Jewish Bakers UnionChapter 9 – Dealing with the challenges of a de...Chapter 10 – Solomon’s journey to Jewish trade ...Chapter 11 – Interlude of anarchism’s appeal to...Chapter 12 – Solomon Lever finds his home in th...Chapter 13 – The Liberal and Conservative partiesChapter 14 – The Labour Party consolidates its ...Chapter 15 – The appeal of East End councils’ s...Chapter 16 – The rise and fall of communist sup...Chapter 17 – Surging Labourism after the warChapter 18 – The Labour Party’s support for Zio...Chapter 19 – Short-lived Labour-Zionist honeymoonChapter 20 – Solomon Lever’s 1947 broadcast spe...Chapter 21 – Solomon Lever’s 1948 speech from t...Chapter 22 – Solomon Lever’s 1954 speech from t...Chapter 23 – Solomon Lever’s final TUC speech i...Chapter 24 – His Worshipful The Mayor and Mayor...Chapter 25 – Family connections in the Mayor’s ...Chapter 26 – Important social issues raised wit...Chapter 27 – The adbuction of Solomon LeverChapter 28 – Discovery of Solomon’s bodyChapter 29 – InquestChapter 30 – The death of Solomon LeverChapter 31 – Solomon’s funeral and obituaryChapter 32 – The death knell of the London Jewi...Chapter 33 – An appraisalChapter 34 – Bibliography