'Kosher milk, toy shops and housing': Stamford Hill Haredi teens glorify 'pioneers' of the 50s, 60s and 70s in Hackney Archives exhibition
PUBLISHED: 18:38 12 February 2019
Hasidic teenagers in Stamford Hill learned ‘not to take their lives for granted’ through a heritage project focusing on the pioneers who founded businesses and community groups in the area back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Emma Bartholomew finds out more
Setting up a Kosher milk business, helping families find housing and making sure there was community support for those with medical needs.
These are just some of the stories heard first-hand from the Orthodox Jewish pioneers of Stamford Hill, captured in a display at Hackney Archives.
Created by young women aged 16 to 18 from the Charedi Orthodox community group Teen Action, Sharing Our Stories: Jewish Stamford Hill 1950s-1980s features stories, objects and photos of businesses and community groups which have had a big impact on Stamford Hill. The area is home to Europe’s largest Charedi community with an estimated 20,000 people.
Many Orthodox Jewish people who set up home in Hackney after the Second World War, after escaping the Nazis and persecution in eastern Europe, were instrumental in establishing the community as it stands today.
Schools, organisations and businesses allowed them to continue with their religious customs and practices.
Young people from Teen Action were handed nearly £10,000 Heritage Lottery money two years ago to research pioneers from the 1930s and 1940s, and were given another grant to delve into the ensuing decades.
They were trained in heritage skills like researching archive collections, filming and editing oral history interviews, and creating their own exhibition – helped by Hackney Archives and Hackney Museum.
Project leader Malky Reichman told the Gazette: “We looked at how the community was built up. It was small and now it’s a big community, and we found out who were the ones who built up the businesses and organisations in the community. A good three months was spent finding older people who lived at that time who made changes.”
S Rubner – whose uncle opened the family firm 50 years ago to compete with the only other milk company in the country marketing itself as “kosher” - was one of the 12 interviewees. As long as it is not from a non-kosher species or of unverified origin, all milk is kosher.
“There was a demand for our milk because the people didn’t trust the other company’s quality, as it took a few days of production until it was ready,” said Mr Rubner. “Our company had a farm near London so the milk my uncle made was much fresher. There were two other companies that produced the milk for the Jewish people but we were the first company owned by Jewish people,” he added.
Mrs Evy whose father set up a shoe and fashion boutique in Stamford Hill, Suri Aksler who set up a toy shop in her home, Ita Cymmerman who founded Agudas Israel Housing Association to house Jewish people, and Mrs Cohen who set up Bikur Cholim d’Satmar were also interviewed.
Bikur Cholim literally translates as “visiting the sick”, and it helps those that are ill get back on their feet. Mrs Cohen founded it in 1979 after someone collapsed outside her door.
“His family were unable to care for him,” she said. “There was an old age home in Tottenham which did not provide kosher food or any kosher amenities at all, however because he needed medical care he had to go to somewhere out of the area. Eventually with a lot of persuasion we managed to get the Tottenham home to have kosher food and he was transferred there. Unfortunately he passed away after that.”
This prompted her and four others to fund raise by knocking on people’s doors and they began providing a service cooking meals.
“One Friday we were contacted by Hackney social services to see if we could provide care for someone who was being discharged from hospital,” she said. “They would pay us to meet that person’s needs. And that was the beginning of the organisation expanding to provide not only voluntary services but services commissioned by Hackney, Haringey and Barnet.”
Part of the training for the project consisted of “finding a message they wanted to bring across”.
“They wanted to get across how the quality of life for those living in Stamford Hill has improved thanks to the work of the pioneers,” said Malki. “For the young people there are so many schools and choices and they learned not to take it for granted. With all the facilities available now there wasn’t always so much choice, and it’s about appreciating the people who built it up and how we are benefiting now from what those people did then.”