The reprieve of the historic Bevis Marks Synagogue, the iconic Sephardi house of worship that has stood since 1701, is good news for those who know Jewish London, including me. London and its Jewish sites such as Bevis Marks played a major role in my life as a young adult.
My London experience followed a childhood in distant Australia. I began my education at Caulfield North Central School, was a prefect at Melbourne Boys’ High School, and gained degrees in arts and law at the University of Melbourne. Then I went to England for rabbinic studies and to initiate my career. The elegant Bevis Marks was part of my London Acquaintance phase. My first job was as religious director of the Association for Jewish Youth centered on the nearby Bernard Baron Settlement in Berner Street which was ruled by Sir Basil and Lady Henriques, the uncrowned king and queen of the East End. It was not, however, the same East End of the turn of the 20th century but it was its lineal descendant.
That turn-of-century East End had geniality, while the West End had gentility. East End and West End were two worlds, two ways of life, two Londons. In the East End of the 1890s and early 1900s, Jews were arriving in vast numbers in flight from Eastern Europe’s pogroms. The establishment community regarded them as uncouth and uncultured. The tenement buildings they lived in were grey and grimy. Hardly any family had a decent place to live or a reliable means of livelihood. The East End was impossibly impoverished.