Israel Zangwill: Renowned Journalist and Writer

Israel Zangwill was born on 21st January 1864 on Ebenezer Street in London’s East End. He received his early schooling in Plymouth and Bristol but his parents (Jews from the Russian empire) moved back to Spitalfields. From the age of 9, he was educated at the Jews’ Free School in London which still exists today.

Israel Zangwill – Copyright Wikipedia

As a young adult he also taught at the Jews’ Free School whilst earning a BA with triple honours at the University of London in 1884. He read English, French and Mental Moral Science. After graduating he became a Journalist and Writer. 

Whilst initially becoming a teacher, Israel turned to writing. The Bachelors’ Club was published in 1891. Short stories appeared in magazines including the Idler. He was editor of the Puck Magazine, but that folded in 1892. In 1892 Children of the Ghetto was published. Other titles include Ghetto Tragedies (1893), The King of Schnorrers: Grotesques and fantasies (1894) and Dreamers of the Ghetto (1898) and the play The Melting Pot (1909).

Israel Zangwill depicted by artist Walter Sickert following his publication of “A Child of the Ghetto” in Vanity Fair, February 1897 – courtesy of Wikipedia

In addition to his novels he translated the Hebrew liturgy into English, wrote poetry and twenty dramas (many were adaptations of his novels). In the December 1916 issue of Scribble, Zangwill wrote On the Death of a Neighbour. In the prose he explains how he feels desensitized to the mass scale of the war atrocity but feels a far greater empathy with the homely more local plight of his neighbour instead. 

Edith and Israel together – date unknown – courtesy of Spartacus Educational

Israel married Edith Ayrton (also chronicled on this site) in 1903 and they went on to have three children with Edith: George (born 1906), who became an engineer and worked in Mexico, Margaret (1910), who suffered from a mental condition and was institutionalized and Oliver (1913), who became professor of experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge. They lived in East Preston, West Sussex in a house called Far End.

Zangwill on the cover of Time magazine in 1923, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1907 He declared himself a supporter of militant tactics of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union). In the same year Israel Zangwill and 32 others formed the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage. In November 1912 Israel and his wife Edith helped establish the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage. He increasingly disapproved of the violent tactics and lack of democracy in the WSPU and in February 1914 helped build the non-militant and United Suffragists.

Israel alongside his wife Edith. Image sourced from

Israel Zangwill had a long and complex role in various forms of Zionism. His biographer, Udelson, has argued “From 1901 to 1905 (Zangwill) was an advocate of official Herzlian Zionism; from 1905 to 1914 he was the driving force behind insurgent Territorialism; and from 1914 to 1919 he was the leading Western advocate of a Palestine-centred Jewish nationalism”.

“From as early as 1895, Israel Zangwill was linked with the Zionism of Theodor Herzl.  However, he split with Herzl and set up the ‘Jewish Territorial Organization for the Settlement of the Jews Within the British Empire, of which he was President from 1905–25.  The organization sought to establish a Jewish homeland anywhere where land was available including in Palestine, East Africa and Canada.”

Members of the Jewish Territorialist Organization with Zangwill sitting in the front row center; the photograph in the center background is of Theodor Herzl. June 1905- Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Jewish Virtual Library write “Zangwill’s greatest success was in working with Jacob Schiff on the Galveston Plan, which brought 10,000 immigrants to the United States between 1907 and 1914. Around the time of the Balfour Declaration, in 1917, Zangwill returned to the Zionist fold, but warned that the Jews needed a homeland with autonomy, not simply a place of refuge under British or other rule.

Seeing the Arab presence in Palestine as an insuperable obstacle, and recognizing that Arab resettlement could not be done peacefully or practically, Zangwill ultimately continued to advocate territorialism and in 1923 alienated many Jews when, in an address to 4,000 at Carnegie Hall, he criticized the Zionist leadership and declared “political Zionism is dead.”

Israel Zangwill by his friend and illustrator George Wylie Hutchinson – Copyright ‘George Wylie Hutchinson – My First Book: The Experiences of Walter Besant, James Payn, W. Clark … By Jerome Klapka Jerome, p. 177’

Zangwill’s biographer, Joseph H Udelson, says that his physical and mental health declined within two months of his retirement. He had insomnia and anxiety, this was not helped by his always fragile physical constitution.

Israel Zangwill died of pneumonia aged 62 on 1st August 1926 at Oakhurst Nursing Home in Midhurst, West Sussex.

Far End, East Preston, West Sussex – Courtesy of Wikipedia

There is a blue plaque celebrating both the lives of Edith Ayrton and Israel Zangwill on the front of their home at Far End, East Preston, West Sussex.

Wartime move to Hove

Memories of Montefiore Road Hove Minyan

I was born at Westcliff-on-Sea on 7th August 1914 – three days after World War One broke out.

My father was Aaron Samuels, Silk Merchant, born in Kovno (Lithuania) and my mother Bella was born in Falmouth. She was the daughter of Rabbi Nochum Lipman – who was shochet to that community, and his wife Bala. He later became Rosh Hashochetim of Great Britain for 44 years

In those days wherever Jews established a business (usually in a town linked to a trade – Falmouth was a fishing town) and there enough to make a minyan then a shochet was employed and a shul or stiebel set up. Thus a community was formed in Falmouth (and Penzance etc) and up to a about 20 years ago the shul still existed but alas was used as a furniture store. The cemetery still exists.

Within a few days of being born my parents decided for safety reasons to move to Hove. We occupied the second house down on the left hand side when turning into Montefiore Road from Old Shoreham Road (at the time of this document it is a guest house)

Soon after settling in Hove my father decided that on account of the influx of co-religionists into the area – some of whom could not walk to Middle Street Synagogue – that a minyan should be set up in Hove. He consulted with Rabbi Lipman and it was decided that he should start a minyan at his home

A custom built Aron Hakodesh (Ark) was made in the shape of a bookcase and, with the help of Rabbi Lipman, three Sifrei Torah were purchased – why three? One for Shabbat, two would be needed for Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh and the third in case Rosh Chodesh Chanucah fell on Shabbat

The “Samuels” Sifrei Torah were probably written in 1913 or possibly earlier

The minyan was held in our front room on every Shabbat and, on Yom Tov, my father hired the hall in the church opposite our house (now a Mission). The hall was on the first floor and the seats built around the wall. These were light brown tongued and grooved boards

Members were encouraged to shnodder for the Yeshiva Etz Chaim – this being my father’s favourite charity – but for Maftir and Haphtorah a bottle of brandy – Martell or Hennessy was expected. After every service my mother prepared a kiddush

About 1916 my sister Dulcie took up dancing and my mother took her to have lessons that were given in a Gymnasium – now Hove Hebrew Congregation – in Holland Road and I went along with them. The entrance to the building was through a side door and against the inside wall stood a brown upright piano

My parents returned to London about 1918/19 and although there was a gap between the closure of the minyan and the opening of Hove Hebrew Congregation I am of the opinion that my father with his foresight had planted an acorn that grew into the Hove congregation – incidentally the whole ark area and interior was designed by a member of my family, Mr Glass.

Some history of the three Seforim

The first was about four foot tall and extremely heavy. Two men had to do Hagbah when the the sedrah was Bereshit or Zos Habracha. Unusually there were no Etz Chaim but carved satin wood was used inset with ivory elephants and the entire scroll was lined end to end with continuous purple Chinese silk. This sefer was presented to Finchley United Synagogue when my father was warden in about 1937 – with the proviso that it was used every Shabbat Mevorachim and first day Yom Tov – otherwise on account of its size and weight it would be left unused and eventually become possal.

The second medium sized sefer was presented after 1950 to an Israeli charity (possibly JNF?) for use on a kibbutz and a plaque placed on the roller with my father’s name. A proviso was made that a record should be kept in Israel as where the sefer was – ie which kibbutz or moshav – but when my father went to Israel soon after the donation nobody had heard of him or the whereabouts of the sefer!

The third, very small, sefer was portable and in its own Aron Hakodesh and has a very interesting history. At the behest of my cousin-in-law Salmond Levin LLB – then President of the United Synagogue – my father presented the sefer to the Jewish Free School in Camden Town for the use of the early morning minyan run by the students.

Norman Samuels, July 1993

Presented by Steven Samuels