The sacred Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) falls this year between sunset on 30 March and 7 April. It commemorates the liberation of enslaved Israelites in ancient Egypt, after the avenging angel literally ‘passed over’ their distinctively marked houses to slaughter only Egyptian first-born. The Old Testament story helped form Jewish identity and, further, has become a liberation tale inspiring many other oppressed peoples throughout history.
But how might the ancient themes of liberation and refuge be reflected in a tour of modern day London? Our Blue Badge guide Mark King takes us on a tour around London to show us.
1. Kenny Hunter’s sculpture ‘I, Goat’ signals the East End’s history as a dynamic melting-pot and place of sanctuary for all-comers. Not only for many 19th century Jewish immigrants, also other outcast, non-conformist or scapegoated migrants arriving in this global entrepôt and, specifically, the Spitalfields neighbourhood just beyond the walls of the City of London.
I Goat, sculpture, Spitalfields, London
2. Liverpool Street station has two memorials celebrating the ‘Kindertransport‘, chartered trains that saved 10,000 children from Nazi persecution thanks to the generosity and humanity of certain British citizens – notably Quakers as well as Jews.
3. Torah scrolls looted by Nazis from continental communities they had eradicated were chillingly stockpiled in Prague. 1564 scrolls were ‘rescued’ post-war, then gradually brought back into sacred use in Jewish communities worldwide. The Czech Memorial Scrolls Museum in Westminster tells this extraordinary story of survival, rebirth and continuity.
4. Three other pieces of art illustrate important messages about genocide, sanctuary and hope:
- Dutch child diarist Anne Frank has become an icon of the importance of hope in evil times. Her bust is to be found in the British Library.
- Auschwitz survivor Naomi Black’s sculpture ‘Sanctuary’ stands eloquently at St Botolph-without-Aldgate, just outside one of the city’s historic gateways.
- The stunning design for Britain’s National Holocaust Memorial is by Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye and Israeli artist Ron Arad. It is to be installed in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, the legislative building that symbolises internationally our core values and struggles for freedom that citizens have nurtured and fought to defend.
5. Westminster Abbey is, perhaps, an unexpected site to include on a Jewish tour. Yet at its western end is Broad Sanctuary, reminder of the Christian concept of a ‘safe haven’. Above its west door are statues of 20th-century martyrs. Let’s note the inspirational story of Polish priest St. Maximilian Kolbe
Inside, we find both the tomb of King Edward I, responsible for expelling England’s Jewish community in 1290 and the former resting-place of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who permitted their return in 1656 under the Commonwealth.
In Poet’s Corner we find Jewish East Ender Isaac Rosenberg listed with the immortal poets of the Great War, testifying to that section of the immigrant community that stepped forward in large numbers to serve their adopted homeland in its hour of need. Rosenberg died on the Western Front on 1 April 1918 – 100 years ago this Passover.
And in a sign, perhaps, that the oppressed outsider may, eventually, become part of the Establishment, we find a statue of Jewish-born Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
6. Three museums tell powerful aspects of the persecution and liberation stories, not only for the Jewish people:
- Holocaust Exhibition in the Imperial War Museum.
- Museum of Immigration at 19 Princelet St
- Museum of Migration currently in temporary premises in Lambeth.