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Exhibition explores history of Hackney’s Jewish community

PUBLISHED: 14:27 14 September 2016 | UPDATED: 14:27 14 September 2016

Malcolm Shears told his story for the exhibition. (Picture: Hackney Council).

Malcolm Shears told his story for the exhibition. (Picture: Hackney Council).

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They escaped from the Nazis, fled persecution in eastern Europe and moved from an overpopulated East End. And they made Hackney their home.

Blanca Stern's bag, which she was carrying when she escaped from the Nazis on Kinder transport. (Picture: Hackney Council).Blanca Stern's bag, which she was carrying when she escaped from the Nazis on Kinder transport. (Picture: Hackney Council).

The rich and interesting history of the borough’s Jewish population between the 1930s and the 1950s is the subject of a new exhibition at Hackney Museum.

Created by girls from the Chassidic Orthodox community group Teen Action, Sharing Our Stories: Jewish Stamford Hill features films, stories and photos from people who moved to the Stamford Hill area during that time.

Stamford Hill is now home to Europe’s largest Haredi community with an estimated 27,000 people.

But recent reports have revealed some are upping sticks to Canvey Island due to the soaring house prices in the area.

Tzvi Rabin also spoke to the girls. (Picture: Hackney Council).Tzvi Rabin also spoke to the girls. (Picture: Hackney Council).

That’s a far cry from 80 years ago, as the girls found out when they spoke to seven community figures about their journeys, first impressions of London and everyday life on their arrival.

The idea was to give the youngsters a glimpse into the history of their families and community around the Second World War and the following decade when new groups were arriving and bringing their own customs and practices.

Ellie from Teen Action said the exhibition, which was a year in the making, was well worth the wait.

“It’s been amazing,” she told the Gazette.

The story of Rabbi Pinter is also included. (Picture: Hackney Council).The story of Rabbi Pinter is also included. (Picture: Hackney Council).

“The girls themselves came up with the themes they wanted to put across.

“It’s about the time when Jews came from different places after the war – the reasons they might have come and what their experiences were like.

“The girls came up with a list of 12 people to speak to. Some didn’t agree to it but the ones who did just told their life stories.

“There’s a large focus on the difference between then and now in Stamford Hill, and the girls learnt a lot.

“They didn’t really know much about it beforehand – but some had grandparents who did the same thing at that time.

“I learnt a lot too, like how they didn’t have many Kosher foods and had to work out from the ingredients if stuff was Kosher.

“The whole Jewish infrastructure wasn’t very well set up either so many were on their own.

“It was an opportunity for girls to see things differently and see how lucky they are to be living in an established community.”

The exhibition provided a perfect opportunity to show what Teen Action is all about.

The community charity, which works in Hackney and Haringey, aims to promote and advance education through training courses, while also offering leisure activities.

On display are seven photos of the people interviewed, with their accompanying stories.

The exhibition also features two videos and recordings, along with old objects donated by the seven participants – most notably a child’s handbag carried by one woman who escaped the Nazis on the Kinder transport.

“We have wanted to do this for three years,” added Ellie, “so the girls could connect with their heritage.”

The long wait was because the charity was waiting for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, which finally came last year.

That £9,900 helped the community group fund filming and interviewing sessions for the girls courtesy of Hackney Museum, and they were able to see the results of their work for the first time at Tuesday’s launch.

The exhibition is now on display in the Reading Lane museum until January 9.

For more information on Hackney Museum including opening hours visit hackney.gov.uk/hackneymuseum

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