Jewish London

The word 'Jewish' may describe a person's ethnic background, culture, religion, or a combination of some or all of these. There are Jewish communities in many parts of Britain, and around half of all British Jews today live in London.

London's Jewish population was first established in the Middle Ages, but Jewish people were expelled from England in the 13th century and not allowed to return until 1656. A small Jewish community re-established itself in the City, and grew gradually larger throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Jews worked in a wide range of professions, from banking to dealing in old clothes.

Between 1880 and 1914, refugees fleeing persecution and poverty in Eastern Europe swelled London's Jewish community. Most of the newcomers settled in the East End, developing their own distinctive community. They worked as tailors, shoemakers, cabinet-makers, traders and cigar and cigarette workers. At its height, the community was supported by over a hundred synagogues, and had a vibrant cultural scene including Yiddish theatre and newspapers.

In an attempt to reduce the number of settlers arriving, the Aliens Act was introduced in 1905. By 1914, London's Jewish population had increased from around 35,000 to 150,000, but the outbreak of the First World War brought immigration to a standstill.

In the 1930s, the government was initially reluctant to admit a large influx of refugees from Nazism. Adults had to have guaranteed employment in Britain before they were allowed to enter the country. In their search for safety, even those who were highly educated sought work as domestic servants, and British people who offered to employ the German refugees saved many lives. Thousands of children were also given asylum, travelling across Europe on the 'Kindertransport'.

When the Second World War began, Jewish refugees were interned as enemy aliens, but after a public outcry they were soon released. Many went on to help the war effort by working on the Home Front or joining the armed forces.

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, many British Jews emigrated, but groups of Jewish people also came to London from Middle Eastern and North African countries where they faced hostility.

In the years after the Second World War, as general prosperity increased, many Jews moved north from the East End and Hackney to areas such as Golders Green and Hendon. By the end of the 20th century, the heart of London's Jewish community was in the north of the City, with one in five London Jews living in the borough of Barnet.

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