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My grandmother the 'Shabbos goy'

    I wasn’t entirely surprised to read about the almost utopian vision of East End life in Arnold Circus.

    My grandmother, Irene Bevan, grew up in Bethnal Green and lived not far from the street mentioned in the BBC programme.

    A mongrel East End gentile of uncertain origins herself, she always talked of the warmth between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

    As a teenager she was a “Shabbos goy” for an Orthodox family and saw them as a model of upright, family life compared to the chaos of her home, dominated by an overbearing father, near-blinded by gas in the First World War.

    “They were lovely people,” she would say. “Always very clean.”

    This orderliness was something to which she aspired but never quite managed to attain. Her extended family, the Bevans on one side and the Beevors on the other, were skilled bootmakers and cabinet makers. And they worked alongside (and sometimes for) émigrés in the same trades.

    Irene’s brother, Jim, worked for a firm of Jewish furniture makers and my mother still has a beautiful sewing cabinet, inlaid with his intricate marquetry, which stands as a small monument to the intertwining of these two East End communities.

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