Found: cheder pupils’ archive from WWI
DIGITAL SHOWCASE FOR CHEDER PUPILS’ WARTIME WRITING
A REMARKABLE insight into the thoughts of young Londoners during the First World War has come to light through a London Jewish Cultural Centre digital resource project.
Painstakingly illustrated poems, essays and cartoons are among a treasure trove of material contained in two bound volumes of work by pupils of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue religion school in 1915 and 1916, when the shul was in its original premises in Hill Street. They had been gathering dust in storage boxes until discovered by Sharon Lewison, a former archivist at the St John’s Wood shul.
Now the digitised work is about to become a showpiece addition to LJCC’s We Were There Too site, recording the contribution to the war by Jewish Londoners, both on the battlefield and on the home front. The resource is backed by more than £400,000 in Heritage Lottery funding.
Project director Alan Fell says the material is of immense historical importance. “It shows how kids were caught up in the propaganda of the day.
“As far as we can find out, there is nothing like this in the world — a contemporaneous record of the views of young Jews. It has a resonance to what is happening in the world now.”
Adds the project’s Mandy King: “You can get stuff about soldiers. You might find a bit about women, particularly if they were in the Auxiliary Corps. This is the missing link.
“These are extraordinary impressions of the time.”
The project team got wind of the material quite by chance. Having contacted around 150 congregations to promote the resource through means such as articles in synagogue magazines, follow-up calls were made last summer to 20 larger shuls.
Mr Fell recalls: “When LJS asked if we would like to see the children’s books, we knew what we had found without Kew [the National Archives] telling us.
“The fact that an annual report of a religion school was so willing to reproduce such material showed the mood of the time. The standard of literacy is amazing. I don’t know if kids today could write like this. Scholars will beat a path to it.”
Ms King adds: “It was like gold dust