07 September 2007

UK: A "cultural archaeologist" on Brick Lane

As we travel discovery road looking for our ancestor's roots and learning about our unique family histories, it's also important to investigate where and how earlier generations lived.

London's East End and its famous Brick Lane are featured in a Telegraph story.

Originally a Hasidic neighborhood - where Orthodox immigrants had settled in the late 19th century following Russian pogroms - the story spotlights two books by Rachel Lichtenstein, whom writer Ian Thomson calls a "cultural archaeologist."

Her current book is "On Brick Lane;" the other is "Rodinsky's Room."

Brick Lane, east London's most mythologised street, was once a labyrinth of Jewish immigrant culture and Hasidic custom. Orthodox Hasidim had settled round Brick Lane in the 1880s after fleeing the pogroms in anti-Semitic Tsarist Russia. Many of them changed their names and even their accents. The trappings of orthodoxy - Old Testament beards and sidelocks - were rejected as backward: assimilation promised an escape from the sorrows and derision of the East European past.

By the late 1960s, when I was a bewildered habitué of Brick Lane's Sunday market, the Jewish presence had all but disappeared. Only a few Yiddish cockneys survived in the fur workshops north of Whitechapel Road and the stalls selling shmatter under the railway bridge on Cheshire Street.

Read "From Jewish cockneys to city slickers" here.

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