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The Princelet Street Synagogue
Last uploaded : Sunday 7th Sep 2003 at 21:55
Contributed by : The Editor



Nothing pleases me more than my annual visit to the London Museum of Immigration at Princelet Street shul in the historic East End of London.

On 9 September 2001 my visit was particularly significant because I had been so distressed by the events unfolding at the Durban ?UN anti-Racism Conference? that had metamorphosed into a vicious Israel-bashing fest. Shimon Peres and many distinguished Jews from around the world had left the UN event in horror, screamed at and pelted with missiles by enraged crowds determined to make Jews feel totally unwelcome. I was so shaken by these events that I could not wait to bury my horror in the poignant environs of Princelet Street, where penniless Jews of the past had prayed that life would be kinder to them. Many of them went on to prosper but none went on to become suicide bombers or hijackers. Two days after my visit to the Princelet Street shul in 2001 the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon unfolded.

My annual pilgrimage this year did not disappoint.

Today, the Festival of Brick Lane and environs was in full swing whilst a large crowd of people lined up for up to an hour to enter the old synagogue. What was so heart-warming was the variety of people standing in the queue -- a wide spectrum of age groups, nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. The queues were there all day -- as small groups were allowed into the tiny synagogue more people joined the crowd waiting for entry. When my colleague and I left after closing time, there must have been a hundred people still queuing to enter.

What is remarkable about this Grade II* listed building, which began life as the home of Huguenot silk weavers, is that it has retained many of the original features of its years as a functioning synagogue for the Jews of the East End in the first half of the twentieth century. Inscribed on panels above the main gallery are lists of worshippers who had made donations in memory of loved ones. Poor factory workers are listed, having donated half a guinea (52 p or about 80 US cents) whilst the wealthiest names appear on a panel above the main entrance: Rothschild, Montagu, Moccata ?.

The old ark and tablets of the Mosaic law dominate the main hall. One can feel and hear the ghosts of the people who came here to daven and the atmosphere is compelling, all the more stirring when one touches the wood of the benches and other original features.

What saddened both my colleague and myself is the fact that this extraordinary piece of Jewish life and culture -- it is spread across three floors -- is in such urgent need of finance. We hope that the names that dominate Anglo Jewry today, and that are carved into the wall of the Vilar Studio at the Covent Garden Opera, are also mobilising to have this synagogue renovated, run as a going concern and developed into a major place of Jewish pilgrimage from around the world. The shul is also a centre of more recent ethnic activity and has moving displays that benefit the local Bangla Deshi and Somali communities.

If you are in London and wish to visit the 19 Princelet Street shul (off Brick Lane E1) you must check opening dates and times.

Please visit:



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