Today was another busy, social day and it is my tun to write a post for A World Apart. Chris, she of 43 degrees north and I take turns in writing posts. Once again today, I wondered how I ever found time to work, far less to write a post very day as I did for a couple of years. My life is busy these days; I am becoming a social butterfly.
So when I arrived home from an afternoon playing Upwords with a friend, I had an absolutely blank mind as I sat with my trusty laptop staring at a blank screen. Then I thought of looking back at some of the posts I had written in earlier Januarys and I chanced on a post written in January 2013 when amongst other things I thought back to growing up in the East End of London during the Second World War. So using this as a basis, I had a theme for today.
I searched for and found a street map given to me by a friend many years ago who had recently returned from a visit to London. Apparently, he saw this “A Street Map of Jewish East London” and thought of me.
If you have read any of my posts about growing up,e you will recall that I was born and brought up in the East End of London in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. With the exception of those of us living in our gentile apartment complex, everyone else was Jewish (or so it seemed). They were mainly Hasidic Jews, and from Wikipedia, I learned that “the Hasidics is a sect of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspects of the Jewish faith.” These people did not relate/interact at all with us or it seemed, with anyone outside their own strict community. They were/are easily identified as the men wore their side hair in curls that fell to the jaw and always wore a round fur hat, called a shtreimel. I was always intrigued by these men (for it was mostly the men we saw walking in our neighbourhood) and wanted to learn more about their particular area of the Jewish religion.
As an aside, my parents’ house was purchased by the local government for street widening and in part payment, they were rehoused into an apartment complex. The question is what great mind devised the plan to drop a handful of Christian families in the middle of this enclave of Judaism. One will never know the answer to that riddle.
So back to my map. I have always been fascinated by street maps. Not for me the wide and wonderful world shown in an atlas but give me a map of the streets of any town anywhere in the world, and I can happily entertain myself for hours.
Of course, I immediately honed into the area in which I was born showing that less than 5% of the population in 1899 was Jewish. So I then had to find out what happened between then and when I was born to change this area from being so sparsely populated with Jews at the end of the 19th Century into an enclave of Judaism.
Stamford Hill (where we lived) is now home to Europe’s largest Hasidic Jewish community The small Hasidic community was increased dramatically by the influx of pre-war refugees and survivors of the Holocaust. The population has grown with arrivals from Israel and America. Now within an area of little more than a square mile, there are no fewer than 74 synagogues, or shuls, 32 orthodox schools, kosher supermarkets, butchers, fishmongers and a multitude of other businesses. Growing up I remember the bakers, butchers, fishmongers and while there were no supermarkets, I remember the general food store and the fabulous and tantalising smells that came forth from it.
When I was last in London and making a trip to childhood haunts, I was reminded of my childhood by the sight of groups of mothers uniformly dressed in the mandatory dark coats and long skirts. They, of course, were wearing the wigs that are obligatory for married women, many were pushing prams with a handful of children in tow. Family is of great importance to the Hasidic Jews and families are mostly large keeping the women busy all day. There were also groups of men, but seldom would we see men and women together.
Modesty is paramount to the Hasidics, and the mingling of the sexes is strictly regulated. Unmarried boys and girls will have little contact with the opposite sex outside their families. At social gatherings such as concerts and wedding parties, men and women will always be separated. An Hasidic man will avoid making eye-contact with any woman other than his wife, and would never shake hands.
In January 203 I wrote “While I could find nothing to support this, I think because of this segregation of the young, marriages are probably arranged by the family. How are young men and women ever going to meet? I wonder if there are still marriage brokers as Yente in The Fiddler on the Roof.”
And now nine years later I have proof that the marriages are arranged by the family.
In reading a piece from BBC News entitled Inside Europe’s Biggest Hasidic Communit I learned
“Most Hasidic people marry young. A normal age for boys and girls in this community – by that point becoming men and women – to get married is around 18 or 19 years old.
Their parents normally hire a shadchan (matchmaker), as there is little chance of meeting a girl any other way. The two genders are kept apart at public events and, in orthodox Jewish law, men and women not related or married to each other are not even supposed to look one another in the eye.
“In my mother and father’s generation, they wouldn’t even meet for an hour [before agreeing to marriage],” says Avi Bresler, a 41-year-old father of five, who has been living in the community since he moved from Israel as a teenager.
“They met for maybe one or two minutes, say hello to each other and say yes or no. Now some Hasidim are meeting for an hour or maybe two and then getting engaged.”
I am fascinated by this group. My Grandfather’s family were Ashkenazi Jews and I know very little about the sect. So as you can see there is still much research for me to do in this area. That will wait for another day.
“The purpose of all major religious traditions is not to construct big temples on the outside,
but to create temples of goodness and compassion inside, in our hearts.“
Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama