Project Overview

 

The film will be 80mins. It will be divided into several 15-minute chapters, which together encapsulate the most significant themes of the Jewish East End experience.

 The film will be personality driven - the real stories of the real people who lived in the Jewish East End.

 The chapters will be:

 1. Commerce

From barrel businesses and local barbershops sprang millionaires and global business conglomerates, such as Vidal Sassoon, Tescos and Sir Alan Sugar.

The aim of this chapter is to concentrate on the bitter economic conditions of the East End and the incredible tenacity of those who fought their way out of the poverty of the ghetto.

This is a fresh perspective, which moves beyond the more familiar tale of tailors and shmutter merchants.

2. Art

The hardship and intellectual hunger of the East End cauldron produced dynamic art, music and literature. Playwrights such as Harold Pinter and Bernard Kops, and artists such  an as Daniel Bomberg & Marc Gertler set British cultural standards for decades to come.

The tears and songs of the thriving Yiddish theatre, as performed by the Yiddish diva Anna Tzelnicker, gradually faded leaving a new generation of artists such as the world-renowned stage actor Steven Berkoff.


3. Spirituality

This chapter will begin with the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks recalling his growing up in the East End. It evolves into the surprising story of controversial shamanic and superstitious practices carried out in the East End as well as the contemporary story of David Rodinsky, the golem of Princelet Street (told by the artist Rachel Lichtenstein).

The recent explosion of interest in Jewish mysticism and kabbalah makes this journey particularly relevant today.


4. Politics

This fiery section will feature the pulsating tale of the Battle of Cable Street - a huge street brawl between the local Jews and mobs of black-shirted fascists marching through the East End, led by their fuehrer Oswald Mosley.

This story is one of the critical moments in Modern British Jewish history and a defining moment that embodies the powerful spirit of the Jewish East End. It will be retold through eyewitness testimonies from those who battled with their fists on the front line.

 

Rationale - why must this film be made?

 

The 350th anniversary of British Jewry was recently marked. This was the anniversary of the Jews returning to England after their long exile. However, a later a wave of immigration had a stunning impact on its host society.

This was the migration of the Jews of Eastern Europe to the East End.

The East End became a burning & diverse entity that fumed with political movements, radical ideologies & bohemian artists. The East End was an astonishing story of transformation & renaissance. It is the story of the Battle of Cable Street, the story of acrid sweatshops and the story of swaggering modern artists - such as the 'Whitechapel Boys.'

Future generations of Jews and non-Jews alike deserve to know the story of the Jewish East End and the incredible contribution its Jews have made to British society. The Jewish East End voices that survive hold a vital key to a seminal chapter in British history.  The old world is vanishing, and those who trod its path are leaving us. If their story is not told now it never will be.

The story of the Jewish East End is also a story of passion, of survival and of fighting to escape the poverty of the ghetto. It is a narrative that expresses the emergence of the migrant into a new and transitional world and one that embodies the hopes and dreams of a generation as they built new lives in a new land. The East End Jews have made and are still making a huge contribution to British society, making this story the defining immigrant success story of today.


Cinematic Style

In order to ensure a consistent style throughout the documentary each of the chapters will include interviews, walkabouts through the East End as well as archival footage.

Past and memory will be important themes in this film and the film style will seek to reflect this. Consequently, though it will largely be shot on a digital format. However, the use of film and digitalised archive, which create a grainier and more nostalgic effect, will also be used.

A specially commissioned soundtrack, to act as a musical backdrop throughout the film, will help unify the different chapters. It will fuse traditional Jewish folk melodies with contemporary artists. 

The musical composition will provide a vehicle for the film to be a spiritual mediation into the soul of what was East End Jewry.

The film will also feature specially adapted scenes of the source text for the film - 'Children of the Ghetto' by Israel Zangwill. These will be staged as filmed theatrical productions and will feature the charismatic Henry Goodman and other contemporary Jewish actors. The style will be a fusion of Yiddish theatre, Jewish comedy and modern physical theatre techniques.

 

 

How will this film attract a broad audience?

Together with JEECS, large scale Jewish institutional and media sponsorship will be secured. The film holds a unique position in having universal appeal and relevance to all the Jewish community and thus, it can reach out and connect with everyone.

It is also a film that expresses to the wider world the Jewish experience and the experience of being a Jew, as well as most importantly a migrant story - an issue that is at the forefront of popular political and social dialogue today.

The film will be supported by a new JEECS online virtual experience containing a massive web database of East End history and historical biographies.

As well as support by the Jewish Film festival in Britain, there are many Jewish Film Festivals across Europe and America, as well as a host of international Jewish cultural and arts organisations that can support the film.

National and international television broadcasters will be sought out via distributors, for the film to be shown on terrestrial, digital and satellite television stations.

Finally the online trailer, cut especially to promote interest in the film and independent DVD release, will be another means of spreading the film far and wide.




The Jewish East End; An echo of the past in the present 

(article first published in "The Cable" magazine of the Jewish East End Celebration Society)

I am still trying to figure out why I arrived here. I now live in E9…a bustling urban crossroads…with cluttered streets…choking traffic and the hungry eyes of the poor. I moved away 3 years ago from northwest London. Away from what I felt at the time was a deadness…limiting and close minded. New ideas were laughed at, without much of an alternative. Creative industries were stifled before they could start. You had to do like everyone else did…go to university…be a doctor, lawyer or an accountant. I never found a true expression for my Jewishness in northwest London. Everyone was mostly obsessed with what the other person was doing and the aesthetics of existing; so much materialism and so much wealth misspent on beauty treatments and futile vanities that never bring happiness.

 

So I drifted…away from this place where I grew up toward a new identity. It was ironic that my journey for the new was to be found in the old…the Jewish East End…the original original ghetto. I had moved from one ghetto to another…but this one was different. Amid the clutter of artists and designers I began to feel the spirit of the past…a burning hive of activity that was the East End ghetto…exotic and alluring…people on the make…ingenuity…dreams…the toil of the workers bodies…the tailors and butchers….the jewellery dens and the soup kitchens. I never saw the old East End with my own eyes…apart from stories, memories and photographs…but I connected to the realness of the people there. I don't know if I have nostalgia. All people tell me is of how desperate the poverty really was, with swarms of bugs in the summer and frostbite in the winter. Nevertheless, there was something here…something authentic…something speaking to me…something that I could not explain. Walking the same steps as the previous generations of my family…building my career like my grandfather built the family grocery business…I felt more at home than I had ever been. 


   

Many Jewish artists have journeyed back to their family past to find their future…but for me the East End became a beacon in time and space. This tiny square mile was the final artery to the Old World…of the heartlands of Jewish faith…Eastern Europe and the Pale of Settlement. The East End was one of the final links in an unbroken spiritual chain stretching back hundreds of years…back to the shtetls…and back to the heartbeat of the Jewish spirit. As I walked through the East End streets silently at night…the spirits of the past whispered at me…the chatter of children…sharp Yiddish tongues…the whirring of rickety machinery…down Thrall Street and Princelet Street I wandered…across Whitechapel Road and Bethnal Green. 

The labyrinthine alleyways of the East End carried an energy that drew me in like a magnet. It was mysterious and magical. East End folklore spoke of rebellious rabbis and shtarkers, crowded fight nights in the Premierland and the smell of fried latkes and onions wafting across Hessel Street. All the things that were wrong about where I came from…the deadness…the self obsession and narcissism of northwest London seem to be answered in these tiny cobbled streets. It was these small steps of discovery that led toward a massive reinvention of my Jewish identity. 

As a developing Jewish artist, I began to feel the importance and spirituality inherent in Jewish culture. The culture of the East End was replicated in the Yiddish theatres…this very place was a stage…an unravelling drama. Life was so much more genuine and pulsating with meaning. Anyone had a role to play…the East End represented everyone and spoke to everyone…secular, religious, right, left, rich and poor. It was a unifying place…a place of work…a place of transition and a bubbling cauldron of diversity. Although much of the East End has been cleared out as slums and rebuilt, the place still lived. The swaying rhythms of the lives lived here left an indelible imprint…a spiritual mark. This echo of intense and furious action left a marker in history…a metaphysics of time and space. Even though most Jews have gone from here…their energy still lingered. The spirits of the East End were still here…moving in a parallel universe. I could see them in my mind's eye. I felt compelled to tell their stories that were being slowly lost.

 

Since being in the East End for some time, my work ran entwined with the life that was once here. With help from some generous donors, I began making a feature documentary on the Jewish East End. It was time to put this forgotten place back on the map. The aim was to make a film that could traverse the world, featuring the great names of the East End who were alive (let alone the ones who have passed on), relaying their memories of the past to shape the future. There were so many stories….of drama and poverty, of the fascists and Cable Street, of a burning crucible of creativity with the artistic movement known as the 'Whitechapel Boys.' The stories were rich and delicious. 

Everywhere you looked there were more stories that had not fully been told…and evocative buildings such as the Whitechapel Library…the 'University of the Ghetto' that has recently closed down. Old memories were being shut away and wiped forever. The tireless committee members of JEECS were my first point of call. Clive, David, Shirley, Susan and Russell et al…these amazing people stood as guardians of memory. Their role was to restore and embellish the East End, fighting to prevent a collective loss of memory for this place. The work of this film is indebted to these people. So the fundamental driving idea behind the film became the need to tell a story of memory. Memory is something so difficult to define and so spiritual a concept. It is something we draw upon every day, but also something that is so personal and hidden. The story of the East End Jews is a hidden tale. Buried deep beneath the British Jewish psyche today is a collective memory - of random Yiddish words, of foods being cooked on the hob, of books sitting on dusty shelves and old minds recalling the magical journeys taken upon as children.

 

The most disturbing issue is that, like a degenerative disease such as Alzheimer's, memory is being lost. The rapid changes of today's world, the breakdown of families and traditions, the loss of meaning and truth all combine to erode the memories of the past. Shamefully, the rich and healthy communal bonds that once kept a vibrant East End alive have disintegrated. The pathetic cynicism and stoicism of our contemporary world often tries to reduce all meaning to a dismal kitsch. Jewish narrative is one of macro memory. An almost infinite number of happenings, characters, fighters and history makers - wherever major events were happening in the world, Jews were predominantly there. 

They were there making themselves known and playing a part in the waves of societal transformation.

Every town or city had an East End…a burning hive of activity…of smells and rags lining the streets, children running over cobbles, a shnorrer begging for a meal and cramped workers burning in sweat…an entropy of meaning…all moving with the sound of time toward lofty goals. Out of this burning cauldron were incredible and creative minds and personalities. Driven by an intellectual hunger and wretched poverty, the Jews that grew from this place defined a generation - from the poet Isaac Rosenberg to the actor and playwright Steven Berkoff; from the world renowned Vidal Sassoon to the millionaire entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar. The East End was a place of happenings that still echo in our lives today. This burning entity fumed with political movements, radical ideologies and bohemian artists. It was a place of transformation and renaissance.

 

Future generations of Jews and non-Jews alike deserve to know the story of the Jewish East End and the incredible contribution its Jews have made to British society. The Jewish East End voices that survive hold a vital key to a seminal chapter in British history. The Old World is vanishing, and those who trod its path are leaving us. If their story is not told now it never will be. The story of the Jewish East End is not just a Jewish tale. It is a story of passion, of survival and of fighting to escape the poverty of the ghetto. It is a narrative that expresses the emergence of the migrant into a new and transitional world and one that embodies the hopes and dreams of a generation as they built new lives in a new land. The East End Jews have made and are still making a huge contribution to British society, making this story the defining immigrant success story of today.