Who among us has not had a peddler, pawnbroker, grocer, or tailor in the family? Who among us does not boast ancestors who forged new lives in faraway lands?” says journalist and genealogist Melody Amsel-Arieli.
The writer is fascinated by the stories of people’s ancestors who settled in different towns and cities in Britain over the centuries, and presents the life stories of ten individual Jews who immigrated here in her book Jewish Lives: Britain 1750 – 1950.
“I was inspired by many people in Israel,“ explains Melody, who moved there from New Jersey in the United States in 1971, “which was settled by survivors from Nazi Germany along with newcomers from around the world. They all have fascinating stories to tell. And friends with British roots particularly interested me."
Melody has pieced together the detail of these ten lives – their work, pastimes, families, daily chores, food and celebrations – and placed their social motives for immigration, arrival in the UK and experiences as they adjusted to their new surroundings, in the wider historical context of their adopted community and society.
Melody sought family researchers who were interested in participating in her project on Jewish immigration to the UK, and chose ten stories that present Jews who arrived at various times, arranging them chronologically.
One story is about Harry Bedeman, born Gershon Bederov, who immigrated to London from Gorodok in the Russian Empire in 1902. He married Warsaw-born Milly (Jarzembski) Aginsky, in 1915 after they met in Spitalfields, where he had established his own carpentry business, and the couple settled in the East End.
In 1916, after being rejected by the British Royal Engineers because of his nationality, Harry, along with 4,000 other British immigrants, volunteered to fight in Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky’s Russian Provisional Army. After Kerensky’s forces deserted, Harry headed home to England and resumed his carpentry career. He moved his growing family to Bethnal Green, and then retired to Leytonstone, where he and Milly opened a greengrocer’s shop. After World War Two, they moved to Hendon. Harry died in 1976 and Milly in 1981.
“Jewish Lives reflects the experiences of millions of our forefathers, whatever their origins, wherever they settled."
Jewish Lives: Britain 1750 – 1950 is available from Pen & Sword Books. Details: www.pen-and-sword.co.uk, www.amselbird.com