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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

First synagogue since the reformation

It isn't just the Christian faith that's commemorated around Spitalfields and Brick Lane of course. For centuries the area has been a haven or incomers and their faiths. First the Huguenots fleeing persecution in France made it their home, then came the Jews. By the time that Jack was plying his trade in the area the majority of Jews thereabouts were Ashkenazi, from Central Europe their impact can be seen in language - they gave us schmutter and schmooze, schtick and spiel. Earlier, in 1657, in the middle of Cromwell's protectorate Jews were allowed to resettle in England after their expulsion from the country in 1290. They, of course brought their faith with them and the plaque at the corner of Creechurch Lane and Bury Street commemorates the first synagogue, these were Sephardic Jews from the newly Protestant Netherlands. The vast majority of plaques in the city are devoted either to churchs or the guilds and this dissent makes a nice change. Their are still synagogues in the area, Bevis Marks (complete with guard :( )and others now gone such as the Great Synagogue in Dukes Place although the general population of the area has changed markedly over the last half-century as indeed have their surroundings - a process that is still ongoing the entire area is under reconstruction at the moment. Wayne and I managed to negotiate the construction areas and found our way to Mitre Square, which up until reacently housed another plaque, one to the Priory of the Holy Trinity, founded by the Black Canons in 1108 until it was dissolved by Henry VIII. It is however perhaps better known, at least in the modern consciousness of the place where Catherine Eddowes, the canonical fourth victim of Jack the Ripper was found inn the early hours of 30th September 1888. She was the second victim attributed to the killer that night an indictment of the conditions in the area at the time. It was on this night night that the contentious "Goulston Street Graffiti" was found and although it was never properly recorded, pre-dating police forensic procedure. It was feared that the graffiti which reportedly ran along the lines of "The Juwes [sic] are the men that will not be blamed for nothing." would inflame anti-Semitic feeling in the area and so it was erased by the police. Again this speaks to the kind of conditions and tensions extant in the area at the time, indeed it was felt that no Englishman would be capable of these kind of acts and therefore must be in some way a "foreigner". Anti-Jewish demonstrations were staged and there was a real danger of social unrest. As outsiders Jews were used as hate figures as we can see from Dickens depiction of Fagin and some of the oft bandied suspects for the Ripper murders are Jewish - reflecting of course the demography of the area.

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