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Sunday, 30 June 2019

History of the Jews in England (Part 2)

History of the Jews in Medieval England Part Two
The Resettlement
After the expulsion by Edward I in 1290, there was a small influx of Spanish & Portuguese Marrano Jews from 1492 until 1656. Marranos were Jews who either chose or were forced to convert to Catholicism under the Inquisition but continued to practice Judaism in secret, whereas converso is the umbrella term for all converts. They were “hidden in plain sight” as it were. For example, the quartermaster for Francis Drake’s 1577 global navigation was named as ‘Moses the Jew’. So there was always a small contingent of Jews in the country.
The resettlement is usually dated from 1655 under Oliver Cromwell. Menasseh Ben Israel, a Dutch rabbi and leader of the community, approached Cromwell with the proposition that the Jews be re-admitted. There were no new laws or edicts passed but the ban simply ceased to be enforced. The Puritans were against the re-admission but the Quakers and some Scottish ministers were strongly in favour of it. There was a population of 400 by 1690 and by 1700 Solomon de Medina became the first Jew to be knighted (by William III).
In 1701 Bevis Marks Synagogue had been completed by the Spanish & Portuguese community as the first after resettlement. That synagogue is still operative, lit entirely by candlelight. The Jewish population had shown strong loyalty to the Government during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 and this helped to strengthen their cause. Henry Pelham brought The Jew Act through the Lords with no problem but in the House of Commons there was strong opposition from the Tories who called it “the abandonment of Christianity”. The Bill did, however, receive royal assent.
In 1798 the first Rothschild business was opened in Manchester and after that the N.M.Rothschild & Son bank opened in London. Among other things the bank financed Wellington against Napoleon, the British purchase of the Suez Canal and they funded Cecil Rhodes in founding the British South Africa Company. Rothschild is German for Red Shield – the emblem that hung above their door in Germany. Beyond banking and finance, members of the Rothschild family in the UK became academics, scientists and horticulturalists with worldwide reputations.
Coming next, Part Three: Emancipation and prosperity in the 1800s

I'm listening to the late and truly great Nina Simone's wonderful soulful song.
He Ain't Comin' Home No More
from her High Priestess of Soul album.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

History of the Jews in England (Part 1)

A thirteenth century English manuscript  image of Jews being beaten.  Note that the two central characters appear to have emblems of two stone tablets on their clothing.
THE HISTORY OF JEWS IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND is a relatively short one. William the Conqueror is said to have brought in moneylenders from Rouen, France, after 1066. As such, Jews had the protection of the Crown and this alone caused much resentment particularly in times of economic hardship when they and other foreign nationals were liable to persecution. The earliest reference to Jews in London dates to 1130 and notes their settlement around Cheapside and Jew Street, now Old Jewry, which name is almost all that remains of the original Jewish district. Sadly, one has to look hard to find any evidence of medieval Jewry in London. Although excavations in Milk Street and Gresham Street have uncovered two mikvehs (ritual baths) of the thirteenth century which are unique to this country. Until 1177 the only Jewish cemetery in England was at Cripplegate and this must have caused great hardship to Jews living elsewhere in the country.

In 1262 a mob destroyed a synagogue, south of Lothbury Street EC1, and killed 700 inhabitants. Apparently there were several synagogues in London because in 1282 the bishop of London was ordered to destroy all synagogues in his diocese. 
The coronation of Richard 1 in 1189 marked the first of a series of attacks on Jews. The arrival of Jewish dignitaries at Westminster to pay their respect to the king sparked a riot in which some thirty Jewish families were murdered. Similar attacks also followed in Lincoln, York and Norwich.
The years leading up to their expulsion from England were particularly oppressive; in 1275, Edward 1 issued the Statute of Jewry. Jews were prohibited from charging interest on loans and had to collect all existing debts by the following Easter or forfeit them. All Jews from the age of seven had to wear a yellow felt badge 6” long and 3” wide. A poll tax of 3d a year was also imposed from the age of twelve. Three of the 63 clauses of Magna Carta (1215) directly relate to Jews, and in particular their money-lending activities. It means that the document not only has enormous significance for English history, but also epitomises the privileges and problems of medieval Anglo-Jewry.
Finally, Jews were given notice to quit England completely in July 1290. The Jewish presence in many English towns lasted until that expulsion. At that time there were about 3,500 Jews out of a population of around two million people in Britain.
You can hear a Jewish spiritual song here. It's a modern song but the words (in Hebrew) are from Genesis and speak of a golden river flowing out of Jordan.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Image result for dylan thomas
Dylan Marlais Thomas 1914 - 1953

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The form of this poem is known as a vilanelle; a strict format with nineteen lines - five tercets (three lines) followed by a final quatrain of four lines. Notice that each stanza has the same ABA rhyming scheme.
The lines 'Do not go gentle into that good night' and 'Rage, rage against the dying of the light' have become iconic in their own right. The influence of this poem has become widespread since it's publication. It is an exhortation to resist the onset of death, written as his own father was dying. The poet gives the examples of how  'wise men', 'good men', 'wild men' and 'grave men' do not meekly accept the inevitable.
Television writers have borrowed deeply from the poem including Doctor Who, Northern Exposure, Mad Men and Family Guy. The poem's connotation with death and endings was used to effect in the final episodes of St. Elsewhere and Roseanne.
As well as taking his name from Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan was hugely influenced by his writing style and developed Thomas's themes of conflict in his own lyric writing.
I'm listening to the Norwegian soprano, Sissel Kyrkjebø singing the spiritual song Going Home based on the largo (second movement) of Dvorzak's New World Symphony.
Listen here and be spellbound! I never tire of it.