What we Bengalis can learn about East End’s former Jewish community

09:55 03 April 2012

Dear Ed... I was interested to read about the joint research and cultural project by the prestigious Queen Mary and Warwick universities aimed at students from disadvantaged backgrounds in East London and the Midlands (Advertiser online, March 26).

I have learnt so much more about the vanishing Jewish East End while campaigning in the Spitalfields by-election.

The joint university research and cultural project should include an exhibition to educate East End youth about the lives and achievements of the last major immigrant influx, the Jewish community, which arrived in the East End from Russia and Eastern Europe fleeing persecution.

It is important for British-Bangladeshi children to learn about the history of the area as we ourselves are a living legacy of immigrants who lived similar lives to those who arrived before us.

This project should organise walks so that young East Enders can learn about the shops, soup kitchens, free schools, textile workshops and other trades and synagogues the Jewish community ran, similar to Bangladeshi Muslims since the 1970s when most of our parents arrived.

Muslim children will be delighted to learn they can eat kosher meat just like halal because the name of ‘One God’ is invoked when the animal is slaughtered and that Brick Lane Mosque was also once the Great Spitalfields Synagogue and was a Huguenot and Methodist church before that.

They would also be interested to discover that Bengalis arriving in the 1960s got jobs in clothing factories owned by Jews—most would have remained unemployed had the owners not provided employment in tailoring, as the number of Indian restaurants or catering jobs were limited.

Queen Mary’s joint programme with Warwickshire University should also help to share experiences, practices and lives of Bangladeshis with the East End’s Jewish and host Christian communities to increase or foster greater understanding between followers of these three great Abrahamic faiths at a time when there is much need for greater social cohesion, rather than the social exclusion we’re witnessing.

Wais Islam

Former Tower Hamlets councillor and Olympic Ambassador


(full address supplied)

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