This photograph was taken in 1956 of Hungarian and Egyptian refugees celebrating Pesach at the Jews’ Temporary Shelter in London.
The title of the photograph is “Seder Without Fear.” In the photograph are Jews who had just arrived in England from Hungary and Egypt. During this time there was anti-Semitism and political unrest in Hungary and Egypt (as well as other countries) which resulted in the persecution of Jews, and Jews often had to celebrate festivals, such as Pesach, in hiding. Anti-Semitism and persecution pushed Jews to immigrate to Britain, Israel, and other democratic countries, and this photograph shows the new arrivals celebrating their first Seder in London; their first Seder celebrated without fear.
The nineteenth century was the beginning of the mass migration to Britain of Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe. The new immigrants faced many difficulties in their new country. In order to help these refugees, Hermann Landau, a wealthy Jewish immigrant from Poland, opened the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter in Aldgate in 1885. The shelter offered Jews advice and assistance during their first few weeks in London and temporary lodgings at affordable prices. The immigrants were allowed to stay at the shelter for a maximum of two weeks while they set up their new lives. After World War II, the shelter accepted refugees, both Jews and non-Jews, from Europe, India, Egypt, Aden, Iran, and Iraq. The shelter closed down in the late twentieth century.
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Seder – Seder night is a special evening on the first night of Pesach (and the second night in the Diaspora). The Seder is often celebrated in large groups and with extended families and involves the telling of the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their delivery from slavery. The story is detailed in the Haggadah which includes quotes from the biblical narration of the Exodus and from other Jewish sources, many of which are sung using traditional melodies. The Seder includes drinking four cups of wine, eating traditional symbolic foods such as matzah and charoset, and playing games that are directed to helping the children present understand the story. Towards the end of the Seder a festive meal is served, usually with foods that are kosher for Pesach and do not include hametz (leavened foods). The Seder has evolved throughout history, and many new traditions have been added, for example, keeping a seat empty for persecuted Jews, interfaith Seders, and special feminist Seders.
The Jewish Community of Britain – The first mention of Jews in Britain is from 1070. In the eleventh and twelfth century Jews were legally under the protection of the monarchs in return for heavy taxes and loans and lived mainly in the financial centres of London, Oxford, Lincoln, Bristol, and Norwich. In the late twelfth century, the Jews suffered from anti-Semitic restrictions, blood libels, riots, and massacres. One of the worst anti-Semitic massacres of the Middle Ages took place in York where the entire Jewish community was burnt to death at Clifford’s Tower. In 1290 King Edward I expelled all the Jews of Britain and their homes and properties were confiscated. For many centuries, Jews did not officially live in the country, but many lived secretly until the rule of Oliver Cromwell, when they were readmitted due to the intervention of the Dutch rabbi and leader, Menashe Ben Israel. Many of these new Jewish arrivals were of Spanish and Portuguese origins. An attempt to legalise Jewish presence in Britain was made in 1753 with the Jewish Naturalisation Act, and in the nineteenth century Jews received equal rights. The community prospered and comprised academics, bankers, scientists, and merchants. Among these distinguished British Jews of the eighteenth and nineteenth century were Sir Moses Montefiore, Nathan Mayer von Rothschild, and Benjamin Disraeli. Due to the good conditions, the lack of violence towards Jews, and religious tolerance, in the nineteenth century Britain became a target for Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe. The new Jewish immigrants lived mainly in the large industrial cities, especially London, Manchester, and Leeds. The East End of London became a Jewish neighbourhood where Yiddish was commonly spoken. In the twentieth century many more Jews fleeing the Nazis arrived in Britain, including the famous kindertransport, the British rescue effort of thousands of children from Nazi-occupied Europe. The Jewish community of Britain numbers over 300,000 today. This is the fifth largest Jewish community in the world and the second in Europe.