On Saturday 16th June 2018 at the Aldgate Festival, a taste of the old Jewish East end will be returning to Aldgate for the opening of the new Aldgate Square with Jewish food and music on offer.
It’s going to be a celebration of rich history of this area where the City meets the East End. Local Councillor Jason Pritchard was keen that the opening of the new square should in particular honour its Jewish past and so he suggested to the organisers that they book local Jewish band, Klezmer Klub. “I first saw Klezmer Klub play a few years back at a birthday party in Bethnal Green” he said, “and I really fell in love with their music, particularly as they sang about those parts of the East End where I’m from. At the end of the evening I even went home with their CD! So when we were looking for a Klezmer band to accompany the launch of the new square I knew where to look.”
Klezmer is, at its heart, dance music, in particular wedding music, both wild and tender. Played by the Klezmorim as they tramped the roads of eastern Europe, it is a music that gets to your heart by way of your feet. Often described as bitter-sweet, it came out of poverty and oppression. Both dances and song contain joy, exhilaration and wit alongside the sadness, anger and defiance.
Klezmer Klub sing in Yiddish, the language of the Jews in Eastern Europe. Vivi Lachs, Klezmer Klub’s lead singer, has collected her own unique repertoire of songs, which cover a wide variety of themes: love songs, political anthems and union songs, music hall comedy, songs from film and theatre, and songs about working class life in the old East End. A great performer, Vivi animates them all with explanations, costume and character.
Whilst much of the Jewish community has long since moved on from Aldgate there are still many signs of the area’s Jewish past, if you know where to look. Within Aldgate ward, a short distance to the north of the gate, Jews had settled from 1181 and stayed until their expulsion in 1290 by King Edward I. The area became known as Old Jewry. Jews were welcomed back by Oliver Cromwell, and once again settled in the area, founding London’s oldest synagogue at Bevis Marks in 1698. On Creechurch Lane there is a blue plaque on the wall to mark the site of the first synagogue after the resettlement, 1657 – 1701.
Cllr Pritchard lives on the Middlesex Street Estate in the ward of Portsoken and describes how “many of the flats in the square and tower still have mezuzahs at the doors [these are small cases which contain pieces of scroll]. A mezuzah declares: The people who dwell here live Jewish lives. Even though the previous occupants have moved out these traditional pieces of parchment have often remained in the doorways on the estate. It’s this melting pot of history, where different cultures have left their mark, that makes our part of the City so fascinating. My own ancestors were French Huguenots who arrived as refugees in Spitalfields in the 1680s and my family has remained in the East End ever since.”
In addition to the Jewish music, Cllr Pritchard was keen to book a food stall where people could sample some of the types of foods that would have been sold locally when the area was the heart of the Jewish East End: “I approached my neighbour, Ivan, to ask if he knew of anyone who might want to run a Jewish food stall at the festival. That was when Ivan reminded me that Saturday is the Shabbat day, a day of rest, making it difficult to find someone to work that day.”
It was then that he came across Monty’s deli in Spitalfields Market. Monty’s make their own bagels, salt beef, pastrami and mustard and many more Jewish delicacies and are famed for their renowned Rueben Sandwich. Happily Monty’s agreed to run a stall at the festival.
“I am really happy that we will have this chance for people to hear traditional Jewish music and to taste a bit of Jewish food. I have already told our oldest Jewish resident centenarian Manny Blankett who is looking forward to coming along. I do hope that many local people will come along and enjoy the weekend. Alongside the Bangladeshi folk music and even a Latin Fiesta band and many more exciting activities, it looks like it is going to be a fantastic weekend.”
The Aldgate Square Festival will run from Friday 15th to Sunday 17th June 2018 in Aldgate Square just off Aldgate High Street. Klezmer Klub will perform on Saturday 16th June. Monty’s Deli will be serving Jewish-inspired dishes over the weekend. To find out more about the festival please visit the website www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/aldgatesquarefestival