Alan Sillitoe, the 'non-Jewish Jew'

By Jessica Elgot, April 26, 2010
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: Author Alan Sillitoe

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: Author Alan Sillitoe

Alan Sillitoe, the novelist, who has died aged 82, often spoke of his love for Jewish culture and Israel.

Married to American Jewish poet Ruth Fainlight, Nottingham-born Mr Sillitoe was one of Britain’s best-known novelists and famous as one of the 1950s “Angry Young Men”, though it was a label he disliked.

Mr Sillitoe’s father was an often violent factory worker, and his mother, frequently attacked by his father, sometimes resorted to prostitution to feed the family.

Yet, in his 1996 autobiography Life without Armour, Alan Sillitoe wrote that his impoverished childhood compared favourably with the lives of the destitute Jewish refugees he met.

"Their faces tell me that compared to them, my early days went by in absolute paradise," he wrote.

Nearly 20 years after the success of Mr Sillitoe’s 1958 novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, he became heavily involved with helping Soviet Jews and campaigned for the release of Soviet Jewish activists Yuli Tartakovsky and Yuri Podriachik for them to be allowed to live in Israel.

He later wrote a play The Interview based on the story of Russian Jew Ida Nudel, who was then struggling to go to Israel.

He believed very strongly, despite not being Jewish, in the right of Jews to return to Israel, describing himself as a “non-Jewish Jew” in 1976.

He often spoke of how his religious upbringing and his discovery of Zionism had led to his philosemitism and his support of Israel.

Last updated: 2:27pm, April 26 2010