The project has provided an insight into Jewish life in Sussex at a key moment in history, giving those interested in this heritage access to a greater number of collated sources for personal and social exploration. Jewish people have been in Sussex since the 1700s, and the contribution made by Jews to the area during the First World War was significant.
However, Jewish people make up a small part of the Sussex demographic, and so this project sought to research, explore and share this hidden history. We have been exploring developments during this time including internment, the experiences of women, military experiences and keeping kosher during a particular time of hardship.
Through a series of reminiscence activities, workshops and events, we uncovered new research findings, developed partnerships, and expanded opportunities to celebrate Judaism during this time.
We ran a series of reminiscence sessions in conjunction with QueenSpark books and Jewish Care Hove. Monthly Jewish reminiscence sessions took place between July 2019 and January 2020.
These reminiscence sessions took place at Hyman Fine House where residents are often in their 90s and memories stretch back very far. This is the last time we will hear reminiscence from nonagenarians of living in Sussex, following the war.
Recent activities with residents have indicated that reminiscence sessions and local histories combined with creativity are what have made the participants come to life the most, making them cry with laughter, and be more alert and attentive. These responses demonstrated how important remembering these lives and histories is to each of them for their own lives and sense of identity, as well as the character of Hyman Fine House care home.
We also organised a Jewish Care outing to Newhaven Fort, East Sussex on Friday 23rd August to see WWI exhibitions and a Sukkot party for
Jewish Care residents of Hyman Fine House, Brighton on Wednesday 16th October 2019.
If you go up to the 1st. floor of Brighton Museum, you will see an old, reconstructed shop with the sign above, ‘BEALL & CO. established 1883′. This shop, which was originally in 51 Gardner St. belonged to Doris’ family. It was taken over by her grandfather in 1915, when the zeppelins started coming over London. He then decided that it was prudent to remove his family to Brighton, and add to his cork business warehouse in Aldgate. Gardner St. was then a small factory, but it eventually became probably the last retail cork shop left in the UK.
Doris was born in 1919 and lived in a house in Middle St. which was later taken over by a Professor Severn who termed himself “a phrenologist”.
She told me, “I was actually born in the large multi-family home in Mile End Road, in London. My mother went back to be with the family for my birth. She stayed for three weeks and then returned to Brighton. I can remember,” she went on, “when I was growing up, I used to visit London quite regularly – we were a very closely-knit family.
Five different families, relations of my paternal grandfather, lived in a cul-de-sac of terraced houses and I went visiting from one house to the other. My paternal great-grandfather, who lived with a daughter, was a fierce, old man. I was petrified of him – a grey old man in a large bed, who seemed to shrink each time I saw him. To a little girl he was very frightening.”
As Doris grew older the family moved to Oriental Place and Doris first went to Middle St. school and later won a scholarship to Varndean School for Girls.
She said, “I first met my husband, Jerry, when I was 15 and he was 19. We used to go to a Jewish youth club, behind where Waitrose’s Car park is now. The first time I met Jerry, I remember telling my mother about the nice boy who’d held my arm as we crossed the road. I was so thrilled and thought he was lovely. We got married three weeks after war was declared, when I was 20, and Jerry was due for ‘call up’.
Excerpt from ‘We’re not all Rothschilds’ – QueenSpark Books, and used to spark conversation in our reminiscence sessions with residents of Hyman Fine House.
We also had the opportunity to borrow a 10-panel exhibition from the Oxford Chabad Society which examined the history of Jewish people in South East England. The exhibition toured venues in Brighton & Hove and was displayed at the final symposium, the talk at Ralli House, and at the Hyman House care home.