The book is a comprehensive and definitive history of the Leeds Jewish community, which was – and remains – the third largest in Britain. It is organised in three parts: Context (history, urban, demography); Chronology (covering the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1940s); and Contours (analysing themes and aspects of the history up to the present time). The book shows how a small community was affected by mass immigration, and through economic progress and social mobility achieved integration into the host society. It is a story of entrepreneurial success which transformed a proletarian community into a middle-class society. Its members contributed extensively to the economic, social, political and cultural life of Leeds, which provided a supportive environment for Jews to pursue their religion, generally free from persecution. The Leeds Jewish community lived predominantly in three locations which changed over time as they moved in a northerly direction to suburbia.
The chapter provides an overview of the book and its key themes. It identifies the importance of migration, urban history, economic success and social mobility. The authors have been encouraged to use a wide range of historical sources and make the book accessible to a wide readership
This chapter explores Leeds as one of the shock cities of the Industrial Revolution, which experienced massive population growth in the nineteenth century. The new industrial classes challenged the old merchant elite and sought political power. The 1832 election, the first time Leeds gained parliamentary representation, was an important statement about the new urban society. The building of the Town Hall was an expression of civic pride and Queen Victoria opened it.
In this chapter the importance of mutual aid and philanthropic endeavour are stressed as a means of community cohesion and as a counter to the fragmentation so characteristic of the Leeds community. As with many other activities, the fellowship bodies were often associated with place of origin, later replaced by national bodies, such as B’nai Brith. The 140-year history of the Board of Guardians, later the Welfare Board, is traced with stress on the desire of Leeds Jewry to look after its own poor. The changing role of charities is explained by reference to the increase in state welfare in the twentieth century
The final chapter falls into two parts, a survey of developments in the second half of the twentieth century and some final thoughts analysing the key themes of the book as a whole. Social mobility, economic success and residential concentration are notable characteristics of the modern community. Divisions persisted and one of the aims of the Jewish Representative Council was to speak for the diverse range of opinion, from the liberal Sinai Synagogue to the ultra-orthodox Lubavitch supporters. Much is made of the achievement of integration without assimilation and the penetration of the professions is highlighted. The case of Arnold Ziff is cited as a prime example of a major contribution to the economic and social life of Leeds, including benefactions to a range of causes, while retaining a committed Jewish identity.