Sussex Hall—The First Anglo-Jewish Venture in Popular Education

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ALTHOUGH my story begins in the 19th century, nevertheless, in order to under? stand the setting in which Sussex Hall came into being it would be well briefly ^to recall what had been happening in the first two centuries of the Anglo-Jewish return. During the the first hundred years, the main pre-occupation of the community was the consolidation of its own security which was held upon a somewhat slender tenure. So, while otherwise designedly quiescent and inconspicuous, it expended most of its energies on the attainment of wealth and commercial prosperity in order to manifest its value to the country. After the first hundred years it became a little less timorous and felt that the time had arrived to seek the civic and political rights enjoyed by their Gentile fellow-citizens ; and so began the long and bitter struggle for Emancipation, which again seemed to have exhausted all Jewish effort. Thus for two hundred years it had neither the time nor the will to turn its gaze inwards and to attend to the development of its spiritual and cultural life. Jewishly speaking little creative was produced during the whole of this period. As the population increased by reason of recurrent influxes of new and mostly penurious immigrants there was a steady decline in the social, moral and educational standards of the humbler classes of the community. It was really not until the struggle for Emancipation was nearing its climax that there was any real attempt to deal with the appalling situation of the poor Jewish masses who had found refuge here from continental oppressions.

THE SOCIAL BACKGROUND

Early in the nineteenth century things had reached a sorry pass. There was little primary education and, though the community was becoming anglicised, practically nothing was done for the promotion of cultural life, either Jewish or general. At this time there was not even an English translation of the Prayer Book (except for the notorious work of Gamliel Ben Pedahzur), there was no regular pulpit instruction, no Anglo Jewish Press, practically no literary production and certainly no cultural institution except for the rare Talmud Circles for the very few. The problem of the poor Jewish immigrant and how to adapt him to the current pattern of Anglo-Jewish life was being dealt with, after a fashion; but the underlying motif was, in the main, to avoid friction and irritation on the English body-politic which might easily arise from the invasion of a foreign body and possibly prejudice the security of those Jews already long established here. In addition to this there was much conversionist activity to contend with, at one time pursued by the doubtful methods of vilification and abuse but now replaced by blandishment and reason.

By the middle of the 19th century the civic position of the Jew had considerably improved. The Jewish population at this period has been variously computed at 30,000/50,000, the majority of whom were now native born, about two-thirds being in London. The process of

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