Heritage tour is full of East End promise

Not only here for the beer: Jessica Saffer, Terri Gower, Laura Kaufman, Amelia Wiseman and Hannah Saffer

Not only here for the beer: Jessica Saffer, Terri Gower, Laura Kaufman, Amelia Wiseman and Hannah Saffer

Three dozen young professionals made an East End pilgrimage on Sunday to learn more about the writers, community leaders and visionaries who enriched Jewish life in the area in the 19th and early 20th century.

They were participating in a heritage walking tour organised by the Zionist Federation and Israel Connect. Centred on the East End's Zionist history, it was was the first of its kind for twenty- and thirtysomethings.

Their positive reaction - and a waiting list of 27 - bodes well for the future of the venture.

Veteran tour guide Clive Bettington led the group around the now trendy streets of Aldgate and Whitechapel, stopping at the sites of the original Jewish Free School and the one-time JC offices, the childhood home of playwright Arnold Wesker and the various stomping grounds of East End chronicler and Zionist leader Israel Zangwill.

Despite being "neither Jewish, from the East End or a Zionist", Mr Bettington offered a stream of anecdotes about community divisions, from the attitudes of established Jewish families to newer immigrants to the differing opinions on early Zionism and the disagreements between the religious and secular. He told stories of the family feuds between the Jewish Home Secretary and staunch Zionist Herbert Samuel and his uncle Samuel Montagu and recounted the disgust of Zionist leaders including David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann at conditions in the area.

"I find it fascinating," said Mr Bettington, who is campaigning to both preserve buildings in the area and have plaques and statues erected in honour of former residents."The East End was a small planet of people jabbering away in their own language. It was the cradle of Anglo-Jewry and it's far more interesting than Edgware or Stanmore."

Although marketed as a pub crawl, in typical Jewish style, it was light on the drinking, although the group did stop for a pint or a glass of Pimm's at a Jewish-owned pub.

Some participants hoped to learn more about a place their families once called home. Others had no personal connection but wanted to know more about East End Jewish history.

"I've wanted to do this for a long time," said Sarah Szenkier from Bushey. "My grandparents lived in this area and my dad ran a stall in Petticoat Lane."

Kate Darcy from Wood Green found it "hard to imagine what was here because London is always changing".

"It's another era," added Dory Ezra. "But once the Jewish East End was full of this age group. It's our chance to see how our grandparents lived."

Originally from Sydney but now a Londoner, Alex Ryvchin recalled that when he first arrived in the UK, Whitechapel was the place he knew most about. "I've read about the history of the area and I've done the Jack the Ripper tour and learnt about the murders," he said. "I thought it was time to also learn about the Jewish side."

Last updated: 2:26pm, July 18 2011