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History British Jewish Youth Movements and Identity, 1945-1960 by Thomas Mark Plant Thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy February 2013




History Thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy BRITISH JEWISH YOUTH MOVEMENTS AND IDENTITY, 1945-1960 Thomas Mark Plant This thesis analyses British Jewish identity between 1945 and 1960 through the medium of Jewish youth movements. It argues that youth movements are key sites for the formation and transmission of communal identities into subsequent generations. It entails institutional studies of three Jewish youth organisations: the Jewish Lads’ Brigade, the Victoria Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and the Maccabi Union and is divided accordingly, with chapters devoted to each.

The thesis examines the preferred identities that each club sought to impose on their members, using these identities as case studies for the wider British Jewish community. Each chapter addresses issues of national identity, gender, sexuality, faith, ethnicity, Jewish heritage and culture, Zionism, popular music and youth behaviour in order to construct an image of the manner in which various sections of British Jewry perceived their sense of identity.

The results of the thesis demonstrate that British Jewish identity was fragmented and heterogeneous, with various sections of the community interpreting the over-arching communal identity in a number of different and at times contested ways. These interpretations were liminal in nature, existing at the boundaries of a variety of sub-identities, and drew on themes that were specific to both British Jews and to wider non-Jewish society, demonstrating that British Jews saw no distinction between the ‘British’ and ‘Jewish’ aspects of their identities. Such interpretations were highly dynamic and continued to evolve in the face of developing circumstances, both within and outside of British Jewry. In exploring the differing communal identities on offer within British Jewry, the thesis also charts the emergence and priorities of a new communal elite and suggests that it is more precise to speak of multiple British Jewish identities and communities than of a single communal bloc.

i Contents ABSTRACT 


List of tables 




1.  Introduction 

2.  The Jewish Lads’ Brigade 

3.  The Victoria Boys’ and Girls’ Club 

4.  The Maccabi Union 

5.  Conclusion 

Glossary of Key Figures 


–  –  –

declare that the thesis entitled British Jewish Youth Movements and Identity, 1945-1960 and the work presented in the thesis are both my own, and have been

generated by me as the result of my own original research. I confirm that:

this work was done wholly or mainly while in candidature for a research • degree at this University;

where any part of this thesis has previously been submitted for a degree or • any other qualification at this University or any other institution, this has been clearly stated;

where I have consulted the published work of others, this is always clearly • attributed;

where I have quoted from the work of others, the source is always given.

• With the exception of such quotations, this thesis is entirely my own work;

I have acknowledged all main sources of help;

• where the thesis is based on work done by myself jointly with others, I have • made clear exactly what was done by others and what I have contributed myself;

none of this work has been published before submission.

• Signed: ………………………………………………………………………..

Date:…………………………………………………………………………… vii Acknowledgements I would like to thank the outstanding archivists, librarians, curators and specialists who have helped me with my enquiries. The staff at the London Metropolitan Archive were extremely helpful, as was Alexandra Grime, curator of the Manchester Jewish Museum. A special mention must go to the staff and archivists of the Parkes and Hartley Libraries at the University of Southampton, and the members of the University’s Special Collections Division, particularly Professor Chris Woolgar, Karen Robson and Sarah Maspero.

I owe very special thanks and an enormous debt to my Supervisor, Professor Tony Kushner. From our first meeting in my second year as an undergraduate he has been a quiet inspiration and guide. Without his encouragement and dedication this thesis would not exist. I would also like to thank my Academic Advisor, Professor Joachim Schloer, whose advice and wisdom has been very much appreciated. I have also benefitted from the kind words and support of Doctor Joan Tumblety, whose comments on early drafts of this thesis were immensely helpful. Doctor James Jordan has offered much advice and encouragement, which was gratefully received.

Thanks also go to the friends and colleagues who have offered so much support during my studies. Kellie Hopley, Josie and Bob Francis, Emma Savage, Fiona Bailey and Sam Godbold all deserve a special mention. At the University of Southampton, Doctor Adam Chapman, Doctor Hannah Ewence, Doctor Julie Gammon and Professor Neil Gregor have all proved an inspiration. I have also benefitted from the suggestions of Professor Suzanne Rutland and Doctor Avril Alba at the University of Sydney.

My greatest personal thanks go to Sarah Shawyer, whose warmth, kindness, generosity, companionship and support have been the highlight of the past three years. Finally, my parents have provided me with constant encouragement, and without them none of this would have been possible.

–  –  –

AJA – Anglo-Jewish Association AJY – Association for Jewish Youth ASGB – Association of Synagogues of Great Britain BJRE – Board of Jewish Religious Education CLB – Church Lads’ Brigade CMC – Club Members Committee of the Victoria Boys’ and Girls’ Club JC – Jewish Chronicle JF – Jewish Fellowship JLB – Jewish Lads’ Brigade JYC – Jewish Youth Council JYF – Jewish Youth Fund LMA – London Metropolitan Archives MAL – Maccabi Association London MJLB – Manchester Jewish Lads’ Brigade MU – Union of Maccabi Associations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland MWU – Maccabi World Union NAAFI – Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes ODNB – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography PT – Physical training VC – Victoria Boys’ and Girls’ Club USA – University of Southampton Archives

–  –  –

1. Introduction Introduction Through its examination of the postwar identities offered by three Jewish youth movements – the Jewish Lads’ Brigade (JLB), the Victoria Boys’ and Girls’ Club (VC), and the Maccabi Union (MU) – this thesis is intended to be a significant contribution to several areas of study. First and foremost it will contribute to the field of British Jewish studies which, as will be outlined below, has tended to have as its end point 1945, despite the fact that there were significant communal developments beyond the Second World War.1 Second, existing accounts of all periods of the Jewish presence in Britain all but ignores the issue of British Jewish identity (Cooper and Morrison’s A Sense of Belonging being a noteworthy exception), and does not acknowledge the complex interactions inherent in the multi-layered nature of British Jewishness.2 Third, by using the three youth groups as representative examples of different themes within the British Jewish community, the thesis will also complement existing literature on the history of childhood and postwar British social history by highlighting the relationship between a minority community and wider society, particularly the way in which trends in the majority influence the actions of the minority – in this case conceptions of British Jewishness and attitudes towards youth.

This is not, however, a study of youth movements or youth identities.

Rather it is one of adult identity that deploys the three youth movements as apposite case studies. It is chiefly concerned with the preferred identities that the institutions and their adult leaders sought to impose on their members, treating these identities as representative of broader currents of identity  This thesis will refer to the British Jewish, rather than British‐Jewish, community. A hyphenated  identity in many ways suggests a framework of Jewish identity that treats its ‘Jewish’ and ‘British’  elements as distinctive and mutually exclusive in that it implies an intermingling of two separate  identities to create a third, hyphenated, identity. As this thesis will demonstrate, it is more accurate to  view the British Jewish community in this period as an amorphous whole, in which to be British was to  be Jewish, and vice versa, with no distinction placed between the two elements.

 Howard Cooper and Paul Morrison, A Sense of Belonging: Dilemmas of British Jewish Identity (London:  Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991).  Introduction operating within the British Jewish community. The relative success or failure of such attempts to instil such conceptions of self onto young Jews is not central to this examination, as it is the nature of the identities imposed that reveals the priorities and ideologies of the adult community rather than whether these identities were adopted by Jewish youths.

As such, the thesis is predicated on the premise that the ideologies of youth movements are representative of wider trends active within the communities in which they operate. Youth movements ensure the reproduction and survival of a community’s identity by inculcating that sense of self into the community’s youth, as Talmon has argued.3 Similarly Panayi has noted that for migrant communities, the “inculcation of the correct values into children” took place not in the school classroom but in youth organisations.4 It therefore follows that particular youth movements represent the identity espoused by a certain section of the community, since they would not otherwise be able to reproduce their conception of selfhood. Each of the three Jewish movements examined in this thesis, therefore, offers a unique opportunity to examine the nature and diversity of British Jewish identity after 1945, to assess the way in which a wide range of sub-identities interacted with one another, and why this took place.

Nor is the thesis a study of youths themselves. It seeks to understand wider communal identities, rather than the identities of Jewish youths. Whilst the thesis will be careful not to confuse prescriptive demands (the desires of adults) with the actual behaviour of youths, it is concerned with the identities that the adults of the community felt important enough to pass on to the next generation. Whilst the perspectives and recollections of former members will be deployed on occasion, this is not intended to be a study of history from below but rather one of adult attitudes.5 As the following chapters will show  Yonina Talmon, ‘Aging in Israel, a Planned Society’, The American Journal of Sociology, 67:3 (1961), pp.  284‐295 (p. 285). ). It should be noted that the postwar years are apt for an examination of youth groups  as a means of communal survival, since British Jewry perceived numerous threats to its continued  existence, as noted below.   Panikos Panayi, An Immigration History of Britain: Multicultural Racism since 1800 (Harlow: Pearson,  2010), p. 149.   This is not to say that an exploration of youths themselves – and their identities – would not be  worthwhile. Rather, as this thesis will make clear, the subject of British Jewish identities is inherently  complex and an emphasis on both youths and adults within the same work would do neither group  historical justice.  


the postwar period witnessed the emergence of a new communal elite, and the thesis will explore the priorities, ideologies and preferred identities of this elite.

The three youth groups to be examined in this thesis were chosen in accordance with the principal that each represented different ideological trends within the community. Historically, each movement represented a particular ideological stance: the JLB pursued Anglicisation, the MU was strongly Zionist, and the VC took a broadly Anglicising approach, though one that was more nuanced and less ideologically rigid than the JLB.6 The thesis will thus explore whether these ideologies contributed to distinct forms of being British Jewish and, if so, how and why the groups constructed these identities.

It is, therefore, not simply interested in the youth movements in and of themselves, but in the ideas and identities that the movements represented.

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