Happy New Year! No, it isn’t three months’ early if you’re Jewish, and those of you who aren’t might like to cash in on the celebration. So, in honour of Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year – today, I thought I’d pick out a few of my favourite Jewish books. This proved to be such a hopelessly vast category, however, that I’ve narrowed it down to books about Jewish London – the place where 60% of British Jews, including myself, live.
Whether or not you’re Jewish, might I encourage you to pick up one of these excellent books as a means both of discovery and of celebration. Happy New Year, and happy reading.
1). Journey through a Small Planet by Emanuel Litvinoff
Emanuel Litvinoff grew up in the East End in the 1920s and 30s, when it was a predominantly Jewish area. In this collection of autobiographical tales he takes us back to a place where ‘people spoke of Warsaw, Kishinev, Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa as if they were neighbouring suburbs’. Brick Lane is now a place for curries and nightclubs, but then it was where herring-women plunged ‘their chapped and swollen fingers into the open barrels of picked fish’. Spitalfields Market, now smartened up to be little more than an arcade of chain shops and restaurants, was then a place to scavenge rotting vegetables. It is eye-opening to share the helter-skelter of Litvinoff’s life, from his first day at school to his attempt to be a revolutionary communist, before becoming a down-and-out and wandering the streets of Soho at night, until eventually he felt the first stirrings of poetry within him, while stirring a pot of glue. It’s a lost world, and one worth revisiting while wandering today’s rather more chic Spitalfields streets.