Anglo-Jewry tends to regard the 1980s as either a mini-renaissance of Jewish culture or the swan-song of a philistine community. Those with an optimistic bent will point to the outstanding East End Festival as evidence of a mini-renaissance. The media coverage and general interest in that festival indicates, above all, that there are many who wish to learn more about the Jewish past in Britain. This past has all too often been conveyed by Anglo-Jewry’s official institutions with an intellectual timidity and a stultifying lack of imagination; hence the growth of such worthy organizations as the Spiro Institute.
To redress this intellectual and institutional lack, a new generation of Jewish historians has arisen out of the academies and are undertaking serious research on all aspects of the Jewish past in Britain; some areas such as Jewish women’s history or the history of the inter-war years have hardly been touched before. A crystallization of some of this new Anglo-Jewish history recently took place at Southampton University where, for two days, ninety academics and lay researchers discussed the theme of the conference: “Traditions of intolerance: Fascism and political racism in twentieth century British society”.
The conference was organized by Dr Tony Kushner, the Parkes Fellow (after James Parkes) at Southampton University, Dr Kenneth Lunn of Portsmouth Polytechnic and the journal Immigrants and Minorities. It brought together recent research on Fascism, antisemitism and racism in British society—subjects that are usually blissfully unaware of each other’s existence. That Jewish and Black historians are, at last, learning from each other’s experience of antisemitism and racism in Britain can only augur well for those that oppose the complacent “all rightnik” approach to the position of Jews in British society. More sophisticated approaches to the study of antisemitism in a liberal society were also in evidence at this conference and look set to question the crude historiography of antisemitism which still dominates Jewish studies in England, Israel and America. When this conference is published in book form—along with a book publishing the proceedings of the Anglo-Jewish history conferences at Leeds University—it will mark a time when Anglo-Jewry’s mini-renaissance has attained an all-important foot-hold in academic scholarship.
Jewish Quarterly Winter 1987