Theatre group runs workshops to help ‘discover and document England’s lost Jews’

Theatre group runs workshops to help ‘discover and document England’s lost Jews’

Pascal Theatre Company running free training on oral history, as part of project to explore the return of Sephardi Jews to the UK in the 17th century.

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Workshop at the Bevis Marks synagogue
Workshop at the Bevis Marks synagogue

A theatre company is offering free training on how to take an oral history as part of a major effort to “discover and document England’s lost Jews”.

The two workshops in London at the end of this month are part of a wider project that has received Lottery funding and “explores the history of the return of Sephardi Jews to England” in the 17th century.

Pascal Theatre Company has been given £80,500 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the two-year programme which investigates and celebrates how Jews began returning to England after their expulsion by King Edward I in 1290.

One oral history workshop will take place in Bethnal Green from 11.30am on Sunday 23 June, while another – specifically for young people aged 14-16 – will be held at Edgware & Hendon Reform Synagogue (EHRS) at 10am on Sunday 30 June.

They will cover such areas as research, interviewing, recording, storage, archiving and podcasting, as well as any ethical and legal issues, and Sephardim willing to come in and be interviewed by young people are needed for the EHRS workshop.

Novo cemetery

Julia Pascal, the theatre’s director, said oral histories would help people learn about how different waves of displacement influenced English life over the centuries.

“This includes the experience of Jews who came from Arab countries where many lived peacefully for centuries alongside Muslims,” she said.

As well as examining Cromwellian and post-Republican English history, the project looks at 20th century immigrants, including Jews arriving with elements of Arabic cultures in their backgrounds.

Sephardi Jews came from the Iberian Peninsula, often via Holland, at the invitation of Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and Pascal said this history presented “a thrilling voyage into archives, gravestones and unprocessed documents”.

The project is called ‘Discovering and Documenting England’s Lost Jews’ and its findings will inform research, workshops, interviews and a free presentation at the 17th century Novo Cemetery at Queen Mary University of London in London’s East End on Sunday 22 September.

workshops at Resources for Autism

Pascal said the cemetery event would include “educational performances throughout the day” and would “examine hidden legacies revealing not only Jewish experience but life in Protestant England during the Republic and Restoration”.

The Project includes oral histories and interviews with descendants of Sephardim to record accounts of flight and safety.

“In London schools we will be sharing Sephardi legacy and working on film with students at the Resources for Autism Centre,” she said.

E-invite to the next workshop

“Research into these little known archives will provide us with new research to inform this history.”

Beyond London there will be outreach and workshops in Manchester and Bath, and the discoveries will be recorded and uploaded onto the website as a resource.

“Next year our film crew will show elements from interviews, performance, research and discoveries made by us at a major London museum,” said Pascal. “We will also host public talks by a diversity of members of the Sephardi community.”

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