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Whitechapel Noise

Jewish Immigrant Life in Yiddish Song and Verse, London 1884–1914

Vivi Lachs

Jewish Studies, Yiddish Studies, Music

Published: May 2018
ISBN: 9780814343555
Pages: 144 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 40 b&w illus.
Published: May 2018
ISBN: 9780814344880
Pages: 144 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 40 b&w illus.
Published: May 2018
ISBN: 9780814343562
Pages: 144 Size: EPUB
Illustrations: 40 b&w illus.

Archive material from the London Yiddish press, songbooks, and satirical writing offers a window into an untold cultural life of the Yiddish East End. Whitechapel Noise: Jewish Immigrant Life in Yiddish Song and Verse, London 1884–1914 by Vivi Lachs positions London’s Yiddish popular culture in historical perspective within Anglo-Jewish history, English socialist aesthetics, and music-hall culture, and shows its relationship to the transnational Yiddish-speaking world. Layers of cultural references in the Yiddish texts are closely analyzed and quoted to draw out the complex yet intimate histories they contain, offering new perspectives on Anglo-Jewish historiography in three main areas: politics, sex, and religion.

The acculturation of Jewish immigrants to English life is an important part of the development of their social culture, as well as to the history of London. In part one of the book, Lachs presents an overview of daily immigrant life in London, its relationship to the Anglo-Jewish establishment, and the development of a popular Yiddish theatre and press, establishing a context from which these popular texts came. The author then analyzes the poems and songs, revealing the hidden social histories of the people writing and performing them. For example, how Morris Winchevsky’s London poetry shows various attempts to engage the Jewish immigrant worker in specific London activism and political debate. Lachs explores how themes of marriage, relationships, and sexual exploitation appear regularly in music-hall songs, alluding to the changing nature of sexual roles in the immigrant London community influenced by the cultural mores of their new location. On the theme of religion, Lachs examines how ideas from Jewish texts and practice were used and manipulated by the socialist poets to advance ideas about class, equality, and revolution; and satirical writings offer glimpses into how the practice of religion and growing secularization was changing immigrants’ daily lives in the encounter with modernity.

The detailed and nuanced analysis found in Whitechapel Noise offers a new reading of Anglo-Jewish, London, and immigrant history. It is a must-read for Jewish and Anglo-Jewish historians and those interested in Yiddish, London, and migration studies.

Vivi Lachs is a social and cultural historian, Yiddishist, and associate research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of Making Multimedia in the Classroom and has written articles on education and Jewish history. She performs and composes music to London Yiddish lyrics.

This treasure trove surprisingly shows that London was just as lively as New York in producing Jewish immigrant popular culture. It’s a vivid and solid study that ranges from the religious to the radical and the racy.

– Mark Slobin, author of Tenement Songs: Popular Music of the Jewish Immigrants

With this unique study of the Yiddish verse and song of London’s Jewish East End, Vivi Lachs has recovered a lost world. She brings to life the beating heart of the immigrant ‘greener’ making a way in the world’s greatest city.

– Jerry White, professor of London history, Birkbeck

Whitechapel Noise makes important contributions to our understanding of Yiddish culture in Britain, and to modern Yiddish culture more broadly. Thoroughly researched and eminently readable.

– Joel Berkowitz, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and co-founder of the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project

Vivi Lachs has written an accomplished and sophisticated book. Drawing on a largely neglected store of Anglo-Yiddish songs and poems, Lachs makes a compelling argument for the value of Yiddish popular culture as a historical source for understanding the lives and mental worlds of Jewish immigrants in London at the turn of the twentieth century.

– David Feldman, Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck, University of London

A timely and well-considered look at popular Yiddish culture in the other English-speaking metropolis, Whitechapel Noise takes us on a vivid trip through London’s Yiddish hit parade and proves, once and for all, that George Formby had nothing on us.

– Michael Wex, author of Rhapsody in Schmaltz

Whitechapel Noise is a unique account of Yiddish popular culture in the East End of London that ranges widely between politics, Judaism, and sexuality. Always open to the nuances of the 400 musical lyrics under consideration, this gem of a book is a pioneering account of a fascinating cultural history.

– Bryan Cheyette, author of Diasporas of the Mind: Jewish/Postcolonial Writing and the Nightmare of History

Whitechapel Noise is a fascinating book that provides a huge amount of information on an important part of London's history.

– Garth Cartwright, Songlines

Lachs makes a persuasive case that we ought to eschew the artificial high culture/low culture divide in assessing modern Jewish culture if we are to truly understand how Jews lived and understood the world around them. By looking at the cultural artifacts of the working Jewish masses, at the materials that were easily accessible and appealing to poor Jews, Lachs not only gives an insight into a story that has barely been told, but also provides a model for how to study the daily lives of ordinary Jews.

– David Slucki, In Geveb

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 9.5px Helvetica} Whitechapel Noise is a valuable contribution to Anglo-Jewish, London, and immigration history. An engaging read, it sheds light on a wealth of material which is often overlooked due to language limitations. Limitations which the book recognizes are born out of the success of Yiddish culture in facilitating the integration of East End Jewry into British life and culture. Interesting questions are posed regarding the formation of identity, making this a fascinating read for those interested in the history of immigration, both Jewish and in general.

– Samuel J. Hawkins, Jewish Culture and History

Whitechapel Noise has opened up some new ground by looking in detail at the poems and songs that dealt with Jewish life in the East End of London in the years between 1884 and 1914. . . . Lachs writes good, clear prose, and offers ideas for consideration instead of theories. Whitechapel Noise has extensive notes and a good bibliography.

– Jim Burns, The Penniless Press Online