CELEBRATING 250 YEARS OF JEWISH LIFE IN HULL
When thinking about the city of Hull, I don’t believe the first fact that would come to mind is that it is home to the longest established continuous community of Jews in the country, if not in the world! This was the theory put forward at the Jews of Hull Conference which took place on Monday June 6th, at the Hull History Centre. The conference was an all day event, organised by the Hull Jewish Archives. On a very hot day, seven speakers gave lectures on many aspects of Jewish life and legacy in the city, enthralling the packed hall. The conference was a celebration of Hull’s 250 year old Jewish community, which has lived peacefully amongst its fellow citizens, rarely being troubled by antisemitism and giving back a great deal through charity and public service.
Dr Nicholas Evans discussed the early arrival of Jews into Hull. Some of those immigrating were doing so in order to escape persecution in the Pale of Settlement of Eastern Europe. Prior to the Pogroms though, Jewish people arrived in Hull to further their businesses, and to expand their trades. Many immigrants arrived at the port, in transit to other destinations, notably America, but also bound for other English cities. Evans described how Jews regularly arrived, moved to cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, returning to Hull only to leave again. Hull welcomed its Jewish immigrants and allowed them to integrate fully into society. There was no ghetto, as was seen in Manchester and Leeds, as Jewish families were dispersed throughout the city. The Jewish community was responsible for providing huge amounts of charitable funding, in order to help migrants move on to other cities, and for the few who remained, to provide the means for them to earn their own living.
Hull had a particularly good record in their support of children arriving on the Kindertransport. Dr Ian Vellins read out some heart-breaking letters sent to members of the Hull community from Jews in Germany and Austria, begging for their children to be taken in. Hull responded under the leadership of people such as Philip Bloom of B’nai Brith, by sponsoring children to come and live in their city. Each child had to sponsored to the tune of £50 each in order to be admitted to the UK; a huge sum in 1939. Money was raised from the both the Jewish and Christian communities and 22 children were welcomed into people’s homes. Adoptive parents took in all the children; there were no hostels required. Vellins read snippets from a diary written by a young Kindertransport refugee, describing how he was unable to ask for the toilet in English. He crept about the house at night in search of the bathroom, but was unable to turn on the lights, because the switches worked differently to those in Austria. After three days of misery the child developed a temperature and became quite ill and a German-speaking doctor was sent for. With a quick chat and translation and a visit down the hall, the problem was soon resolved!
The young refugees of Hull went on to have very fulfilled lives, having careers in such fields as the law, and university lecturing. Several refugees joined the British armed forces once they were old enough, and made heroic contributions to the Allied troops.
Hull’s Jewish community has made notable contributions in many fields. For a community numbering 3000 at its height in the early 20th century, it provided the city with no less than 2 Mayors and 7 Lord Mayors. I quote newspaper editor Arthur Tidman when he proclaimed,
“It is doubtful if any other city can equal the record of Hull in the number of Jewish citizens who have filled the highest civic offices,”
Other notable members of Hull’s community include Dr Jacob Bronowski, famed for his TV programme ‘The Ascent of Man’; author Lionel Davidson; Judge Israel Feinstein; and it took until 3.30pm in the afternoon to get our first mention of Hull’s leading lady – Maureen Lipman!
Hull is fortunate enough to have a very comprehensive archive, recently catalogued by Hull History Centre. This fascinating collection of photographs and documents is a very useful resource for all those interested in Jewish history. Much praise was given to the outstanding efforts of David Lewis in collating the huge number items in the collection.
It was a privilege to attend this event, and learn so much about a community that has given the wider world so much.
The Association of Jewish Refugees.