At The Settlement Synagogue
Contributing Photographer Jeremy Freedman & I paid a visit to The Settlement Synagogue in Beaumont Grove, Stepney, on Saturday. Originally founded a century ago by Basil & Rose Henriques as The St George’s Settlement Synagogue – where there was once a congregation of over a hundred, today we found just a handful of old friends who convene here weekly. Yet we received a generous welcome from some sprightly nonagenarians who still carry the living spirit of the Jewish East End.
I am Italian, born in Naples, and I came here forty-five years ago. It’s over twenty years since I lost my husband and I have been a member of this shul for thirty years. I live in the Caledonian Rd but I used to work in a Jewish clothing factory in the East End. I like it here because we are all friends and have been on holiday together. In my heart, I hope this synagogue never closes.
I live in Bow and I’ve been part of this congregation for fifty years. I just never left it. I was born in Stepney and went to Stepney Jewish School. I served in the Royal Navy on the corvettes and ended up in the Far East. I moved to Bow after the war, I was bombed out twice. I was a fur cutter and I worked in Harrods – I was head of the department. My daughter lives in South End and my son lives in Loughton. I have no family left in the East End.
I’m from Whitechapel, Mile End Rd, about five minutes walk from here. I’ve been attending services here since 1995 when my father died, before that I came in the seventies with my fiancé so she could convert to Judaism. Then, around the time of my father’s death, I experienced seven coincidences which made me want to come back. I’m a dance teacher – I have a studio in Brixton and I teach classes, and people also come to my place in Whitechapel and I teach them here. When I was married, I moved out of Whitechapel but, once I got divorced, I moved back again – so I’ve been in Whitechapel continuously except 1978-94. We all come here regularly to the synagogue because if the numbers drop, they’ll close it.
I’m ninety-one. I was born here and I’ve lived my life in Stepney, until twelve years ago. My children all moved to Loughton and they found me a little house there. Originally, the synagogue was part of the Oxford & St George Settlement but we moved out of the building across the road to this new place thirty years ago. We used to have over eighty members … I’ll always come back here because it feels like home. I belong here.
I was born in Pedley St, Spitalfields, but I lived most of my time in the East End in Commercial Rd near Watney St Market. I’m a computer accountant, retired twenty-eight years. I’ve been coming to this synagogue for sixty years. Originally, I was a member of the Oxford & St George Youth Club. The synagogue is ninety-three years old and the youth club celebrates its centenary next year in March. It’s friendly here, wholesome, and they have all the old tunes that I can remember and I am able to join in.
We were both members of the Oxford & St George Youth Club, and we met when I was about thirteen and Cecil was twenty. We were always meeting because we both lived off Commercial Rd, and now we’ve been married fifty-eight years. I was a medical secretary – I started off at St George-in-the-East Hospital, then moved to Mile End Hospital and ended up working at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. We’ve lived in Chigwell since we got married – but we come back because we like it here, this is more of a community than a congregation and we’ve all know each other a long time.
Maire & Cecil Leighton met at the youth club and have been married fifty-eight years.
Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman
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