From Heim to Home: an exploration of the extent to which the educational experiences of immigrant Jews into London's East End in the late 19th and early 20th centuries contributed to their assimilation into English society

Nina Weiss


The years 1870-1914 saw a significant migration to Britain of poor and often illiterate eastern European Jews. The move from their original 'heim' (home) to a new life and home in England was seen as a potential threat by the long-established middle and upper class Anglo-Jewish community, and as a cause of concern to a British government worried by national issues such as unemployment, poverty and the perceived need to produce a healthier and better educated workforce to serve the Empire. Accounts suggest, however, that despite a brooding climate of anti-Semitism, the newly arrived Jews were keen to assimilate, participating enthusiastically in the developing system of universal compulsory schooling and making the most of the educational opportunities on offer. This article focuses on the Jewish immigrant community in London's East End. It uses a range of life documents to examine the tendencies to assimilation in the late-Victorian and Edwardian period, but attempts to understand the process not just from the viewpoint of academics and contemporary establishment figures, but from the perspective of the Jewish immigrants and their London-born children. This auto/biographical methodology challenges a traditional understanding of education as being solely 'formal schooling' and introduces a perspective which recognises the influences on a newly arrived community of other less formal associational spaces such as clubs, societies, centres of entertainment, self-study groups and political organisations. The article ends by exploring the similarities between the experiences of these immigrant Jews and more recently arrived communities to London's East End, raising the question of what actually constitutes 'assimilation'.

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Editor-in-Chief: Prof Norbert Pachler
UCL Institute of Education, University College London
ISSN 1746-9082

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