Thursday, 28 March 2013

Why was this journey to London different from all others?

Anyone who has been to a Pesach/Passover will recognise this mangling of one of the "four questions" asked at the seder/Passover meal. This year I spent the second night of Passover at the London Jewish Socialists' Group seder organised largely by one of our writers, David Rosenberg, and his partner, Julia Bard (who contributed to our book on Jewish motherhood) and tied in a couple of side trips to some older Jewish socialist friends also associated with Five Leaves, and the Group for that matter.
First call was Esther Brunstein, the widow of the painter Stanislaw Brunstein whose paintings of pre-war Poland we published in 1999. The Vanished Shtetl is unfortunately out of print now. Esther was a member of SKIF, the pre-war socialist organisation for young people, affiliated to the Bund, whose idea inform the JSG's policies today. Esther was in Lodz ghetto and survived Auschwitz. On her arrival in Sweden, after a time in a Displaced Persons camp she was in touch with the American Jewish Labor Committee. Her request to them was not for clothes or money but to ask if they could shikt bicher - send books. Not surprisingly, she is still surrounded by bicher and some of the paintings that appeared in her husband's book.
At the seder itself, during the cultural contributions and readings, one person read Bernard Kops' best-known poem, Whitechapel Library - Aldgate East (which appears in our Bernard Kops' East End). The poem includes the lines: "And Rosenberg also came to get out of the cold / To write poems of fire, but he never grew old". The Rosenberg in question was of course the poet and painter Isaac Rosenberg... no relation to our Dave Rosenberg, but his first cousin was there, the veteran socialist Chanie Rosenberg, aged ninety. Chanie sketched the life of her cousin, who rose out of East End Jewish poverty but whose life was cut short during WWI. I knew of Chanie but it never occurred to me that she could have been a cousin of someone whose poetry has meant so much, and of course was written so long ago.
The day after the seder I visited William - Bill - and Doris Fishman (pictured). Bill is 92 now, Doris 91. He is rather proud that his last guided tour of the Jewish East End was only five years ago, but frustrated that he can no longer get out and about. Bill and Doris also rose out of East End poverty. Bill is still amused that a "Yiddisher boy" from the East End became a visiting professor at Balliol. I must have bought his book  The Streets of East London soon after first publication in 1979, but in the mid-2000s Five Leaves took over publication of Bill's books from Duckworth, publishing Streets..., East End Jewish Radicals 1875-1915 and East End 1888. Later we republished his first book, The Insurrectionists. They still sell, steadily, and are still borrowed from libraries. Bill was pleased that he'd had a good Public Lending Right payment recently - not for the money but because it showed his books are still being used.
It is no co-incidence that the organiser of East End radical walking tours now is... David Rosenberg, which comes in handy for sales of our Battle for the East End: Jewish responses to fascism in the 1930s, by Dave. Now that the walking season is at least in the offing you might want to check out

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