Monthly Archives: June 2017

Jun 14

London Jews in the First World War: We were there too

By Editor | Blogs

Written by Pauline Symons

You can listen to Pauline reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter

Does your family have a First World War story to tell?

A new Heritage Lottery Fund project called ‘The Jews of London in the First World War – We Were There Too’ aims to inspire the community to help find and preserve stories of British Jewish Londoners in the First World War on a brand new interactive website.

Forty to fifty thousand British Jews served in Britain’s armed forces in the First World War, while thousands more were involved in war work and support roles near to the battlefields and on the Home Front. When the call came, the Jewish community stood up to be counted.

Although, a century on, first‐hand knowledge has disappeared, we know that personal recollections of the war years can still be captured through family stories and anecdotes, along with letters, diaries and memorabilia that have survived in attics and old photograph albums.

Judah and Lipman Przybysz, outside Judah’s tailor shop in the East End. A We ere There Too user has recently identified them as his great-uncles. ©Jewish Museum

But time is against us as lofts get cleared and the accuracy of family history fades. With the community’s help, We Were There Too will become the permanent digital archive for this precious material, preserving the surviving evidence for future generations.

Through a series of History Windows, the site will provide a unique insight into the experience of living as a minority group through the conflict while also offering user friendly access to a number of First World War archives, including the newly‐digitised British Jewry Book of Honour, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, local directories of the period, and rare private collections.

The offices of the Jewish Chronicle, London, August 1914. Courtesy of the Jewish Museum

The most important element of the project is the capture and
preservation of individual stories in Personal Records. If your ancestor fought in the war, raised a family, kept a business going, served as a nurse or factory worker, cared for a wounded son or husband, or experienced a wartime childhood, you will be able to upload their story and ensure that their contribution to Britain’s war effort is not forgotten. Photographs, letters, diaries and even 3D scans of medals and other items can be added. And if you don’t know much about your ancestor beyond a faded photograph, the site will provide guidance on how to research their story further.

The 4th Volunteer Battalion Royal Fusiliers cyclist section marching through Finsbury led by Lieutenant B.M.C Tyler, c.1912. Courtesy of the Tyler family

Volunteers are needed to help us, from research and IT to helping older people upload their stories. We hope that Jewish schools, cheders and youth organisations will encourage children to investigate and record their own family stories, or research a Jewish soldier listed in the Book of Honour.

Teenagers will also be able to take part in the project, linked to the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Open College Network accreditation activities organised through JLGB.

The project is designed to engage the community with the period and make them both aware and proud of the contribution British Jews made to British society a hundred years ago and continue to make today.

As Alan Fell, Project Director said: ‘In the aftermath of Brexit and a noticeable rise in racist incidents, there has never been a timelier moment to remind ourselves and our fellow countrymen that we were there too.’

I am delighted to be a volunteer on this amazing project and would be happy to hear from you if you have a story you wish to share about your ancestors in the First World War.

You can contact Pauline via this website or you can contact the organisation directly using at jewsfww.london.

Jun 12

Bias in the Media

By Editor | Blogs

Written by Tara Goldsmith

For many years there have been arguments as to whether or not the news media is biased, this argument has been particularly relevant when talking about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Often, as Jews it is an automatic reaction to believe that Israel is being discriminated against, however, after looking at different statistics and articles it is clear that this is not always the case.

The confusing nature of the conflict has led to the formation of many different opinions, these conflicting opinions are often highlighted in the news reporting of the events. Each side, the pro‐Israel and the anti‐Israel/pro‐Palestine, has claimed that news reporters are being biased towards the other.

The BBC has been covering this conflict from its earliest developments and there have been many reports on the institution’s bias. However, both sides believe that the bias is against them.

A report posted on the Guardian’s website showed pictures of a pro‐Palestinian group protesting outside the BBC’s London headquarters, complaining that the BBC had reported the Israeli air strikes in a biased way. They believed that the BBC’s news programmes were ‘entirely devoid of context or background’. This article states that many people believe that the BBC is not getting across the Palestinian point of view, saying that it hasn’t considered the background of the conflict enough in the report.

However, the Guardian also has a statement from someone on the other side, a columnist from the Jewish Chronicle, saying that the criticism of the BBC has been ‘made in exactly the same detail on the other side of the argument’, meaning that pro‐Israel groups would also say that the BBC hasn’t considered the history of the Jewish people and their historic right to have their own state.

The accusation of bias isn’t contained simply to mainstream media. According to research done in October 2013, Twitter has over 215 million active users, creating over 500 million tweets, which accumulates to just over 3% of the world’s population using twitter. During the summer of 2014 many trends and hashtags were started regarding the conflict. Many tweets including the hashtag ‘#freepalestine’ were shared among the site, with many celebrities getting involved. Singer Rihanna tweeted the hashtag to her 37.8 million followers, and received a total of 11,629 retweets and favourites. As well as this, former One Direction singer, Zayn Malik also tweeted the hashtag to his 13 million followers receiving over 130,000 retweets. However, many of One Direction fans are young and impressionable, many of whom will not know the full extent of the situation. Many impolite, incorrect and harmful comments have been made using these hashtags, including nods towards ethnic cleansing and other
insensitive or damaging ideas. Those that aren’t necessarily completely educated on the topic and history, may relay these opinions themselves without knowing the full consequence of what they’re saying.

The rise of social media has meant that the platforms have been increasingly used as a tool to coordinate campaigns of antisemitic harassment. Examples include the ‘runover’ campaign, with around 90 different Facebook pages dedicated to it, with thousands of followers. This campaign came about after several car attacks by Palestinian terrorists, resulting in injuries and deaths of several Israeli citizens in late November 2014. These pages have been described as glorifying and encouraging terror attacks against Israelis. Some of the posts on these pages describe the ‘run‐overs’ as part of a new revolution; a form of ‘car Intifada’. Other Facebook pages include anti‐Semitic posts depicting religious Jews with hooked noses running away from vehicles attempting to run‐over them. The campaign spread on Twitter as well; the Arabic hashtag ‘Daesh’ has attracted numerous posts celebrating terrorism. For example, one Tweet reads, ‘Nothing is more beautiful than a runover, lest stabbing’. These types of campaigns are dangerous and harmful, spreading glorification not only of attacks on Israel but terror attacks in general.

Many Twitter users have also used incorrect or out of context images to portray the abuse given to both sides during certain conflicts. During the most recent Israel‐Gaza conflict many of these images show an incorrect or bad representation of not only Israelis, but Jews as well. Twitter user ‘@InCapitol24’ tweeted an image of a Jewish man shouting at a seemingly defenceless and innocent Palestinian woman, with the caption ‘Israeli religious fanatics (Jews) stop Palestinians from praying at Al Aqsa mosque in #Jerusalem’, receiving 798 retweets and 233 favourites. However, when looking more closely at the image it is clear to see that the Palestinian woman is holding a Jewish book of Psalms. It is then easy to assume that this woman has taken it from the Jewish man as the book is upside down in her hands
and of no relevance to her. One blog found a video to prove these assumptions. Six seconds into the video you can see the women aggressively grabbing the book from the man. As well as this, it is clear to see that the Palestinians are pushing the Jews away and preventing them from praying, not the other way round as many sources would suggest.

A recent USA Today article reports on the different antisemitic attacks throughout Europe. For example in France, three consecutive weekends of pro‐Palestine protests turned into a string of antisemitic attacks. This supports the CST’s statistics; 1,309 antisemitic incidents recorded nationwide during 2016, a 36 percent increase from the 960 incidents recorded by CST in 2015. Examples of such antisemitism include: occupants in a group of cars, in Manchester, England, shouted and swore at Jewish pedestrians, yelling ‘heil Hitler’, and in Antwerp, Belgium, a doctor refused to treat a Jewish woman, telling her son to ‘send her to Gaza for a few hours, then she’ll get rid of the pain’. This sort of behaviour can be linked back to what people see or hear in the media. It has also proved that people tend to blame Jews for the wrongdoings of Israel.

CNN reported on the November 2014 attacks at a synagogue in Jerusalem, committed by a group of Palestinians. However, the headline of the news story, live on air, read; ‘Deadly attack on Jerusalem Mosque’. This shows that the news company could possibly have created the headlines before finding out the whole story. This theory becomes a little more evident when the next headline comes on screen; ‘Police: four Israelis, two Palestinians killed in attack’, this title is vague and leaves the viewers with questions. The report becomes confusing for the viewers as Jerusalem’s mayor is interviewed talking about the synagogue. Although there is no hard evidence, it can be seen that this news corporation has created the headlines prior to their own knowledge of the whole story, which highlights their bias, as they seem to have automatically decided that the mosque must have been the target of attack. This has also been criticised in UK news
outlets, with the press attaché at London’s Israeli embassy,
Yiftah Curiel, in early 2016 stating: ‘Headlines of news pieces on the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict will turn events on their head, portraying perpetrator as victim.’

Although this article cannot possibly show the whole story, nor examine every aspect of the on‐going conflict, these examples do show how media bias can affect people’s views on certain events. It’s important to remember that news outlets will often take sides before understanding a full story. This is not saying not to trust the news, but simply to be aware of the bias they may hold.

Jun 09

North Herts Jewish Genealogical Society

By Editor | Blogs

Written by John Shaw

You can listen to John reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter

The local group of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain has been meeting at SAMS about twice a year since 2014. We have also been meeting at the Welwyn Garden City Synagogue. All the meetings have included general sessions uncovering areas of difficulty experienced by researchers with resultant suggestions on how to overcome them. Specifically we have had talks from Society experts on conducting research into UK, Polish and German records.

The aim of the Society is to encourage people to take an interest in their family history and assist any who want to pursue this. The particular aim of the North Herts Group is to provide this service more or less on the doorstep and to do so in a friendly atmosphere. So if you have caught the family history research bug as a result of SAMS Roots exercises and want to go further why not come along to one of our meetings and discover how we can help. You do not have to be a member to attend and you can expect some help with your family history research without joining, but the full range of the Societyʹs resources kick in once you become a member. This can for example mean you being allocated a mentor to assist you overcome the problems being experienced.

See the synagogue diary for details of the next meeting at SAMS where the group will examine the SAMS Roots programmes with a particular emphasis on how the society might be able to  assist participants in the programme who are interested in taking their family history research further and even those starting from scratch.

In order to assist our experts who are attending to prepare, would you please let us know of any intention to attend by using the contact form.

Jun 06

SAMS Bridge Club

By Editor | Blogs

Written by Andrea Berry

You can listen to Andrea reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter

‘What shall I say about the Bridge Club?’ I enquired of my fellow players. ‘Awful people!’ was the immediate response. ‘Rude!’ ‘Cruel!’ After the inevitable laughter, the serious comments:

‘The newer players can learn from the more experienced’. ‘Unlike at other bridge clubs, we can discuss the hands afterwards’. ‘Thereʹs no stressful competition between couples.’

SAMS Bridge Club welcomes all those with some previous knowledge of the game, who would enjoy playing in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere — and not mind losing! It is not necessary to bring a partner. Players are paired on a flexible basis.

Sessions run on the first Thursday of the month from 1.30pm – 4.30pm approx.

There is a £3 charge to cover refreshment and heating costs.

We usually have up to three tables but have plenty of room for more. Donʹt be shy – give it a go.

Use the contact form to request more information.

Jun 06

SAMS Book Club

By Editor | Blogs

Written by Marilyn Levi

You can listen to Marylin reading this post on the audio version of our latest Newsletter

There are some brilliant facts about SAMS: the friendly welcoming atmosphere, the high standard of our lay readers, the food! I would like to nominate the SAMS Book Group, which certainly merits a place as one of our special features.

I have been coming to the Book Group for two or three years and always find it entertaining and fun with our lively discussions. It is also a very interesting way of learning about books, which I would not have otherwise read.

Pauline Symons is the group leader, and while she gives us a brief outline of the title of the chosen book at the start of each meeting, I hear mutters of ‘I loved it’, ‘I hated it’!

Everybody at the Book Group has strong opinions, and it is fascinating to find that the same book can create such diverse reactions. What a stimulating experience it is to listen to people explain why they like a book, that I really did not enjoy, and try to understand their point of view. I am not always convinced, but nevertheless, it makes for a fascinating discussion.

In December, we had a rare occurrence: everybody loved
the book ‘A Marriage of Opposites’ by Alice Hoffman.

Image via Amazon.co.uk

I think this is the very first time that we have all agreed on how much we enjoyed a book. We were all quite stunned to be able to share our delight in the experience of reading this book. It appealed to all our tastes, and to every age group. There was also a factual element to it, as it was based on the Caribbean ancestors of Camille Pissaro.

Over the last few meetings, we have read a varied selection of contemporary literature, making it a rule to not choose too long a book. Perhaps the exception was ‘Here I am’ by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I was pleased to read.

We are also considering some non‐fiction titles, such as
Jeremy Paxman’s autobiography.

At the moment, we are quite a small group of nine or ten people who attend regularly, so it would be good to encourage more members to try it out. Come along and enjoy the coffee and biscuits, but I am sure you will get far more from it with some stimulating company and literary ideas flying.

After our discussions about the chosen book, we always enjoy the process of choosing the next book to read. This is voted for with a show of hands in a democratic way.

Sometimes, if a book has been runner up several times, it is then chosen for a future meeting, which was the case for ‘Exposure’ by Helen Dunmore, discussed in February. This was a fascinating story of 1960s Cold War and how it affected a family. This book matched our December choice of ‘A Marriage of Opposites’ in that it was enjoyed by everyone. Two hits in three months is quite a success rate.

The next book on our list is ‘The Gustav Sonata’ by Rose Tremain.

Do come and join our lively arts discussion group.