​Through The Generations

Introduction/ Narrated by Harry Hurst

A podcast series compiled from oral histories and produced as part of a digital exhibition exploring how Liberal Judaism has evolved since it was co-founded by British visionary Lily Montagu in 1902.

This episode explores the theme of youth and intergenerational Judaism

One of Lily Montagu’s major achievements was the foundation of the West Central Jewish Girls Club in 1893. Since that time Liberal Judaism has been committed to the needs and future of its young people.

As well as clubs run by the movement, a number of synagogues founded their own youth clubs. In this episode Liberal Jews reminisce about the clubs they formed and attended. Listen to memories that date back to Lily’s lifetime as well as perceptions from our current young members.

I grew up going to the LJS. I went to cheder there, to the religion school and felt very much part of that community. I also went to the youth club there which was called Square One. I wasn’t Bat Mitzvahed, I was confirmed and that was what was considered the route into sort of mature Judaism in those days. It was like Kabbalat Torah now at 15. I was with a group of other young people who’d been through the whole religion school together. So we were very close group, we were good friends.
They’re both in their 20s now my daughters. But my youngest daughter, Helen, she was an LJY Netzer staff member here at the Montagu Centre. And she feels very strongly about a sense of identity as a Jew, probably much more than I do, actually. But I think through her, I will have more of a connection with Judaism as well, as she gets older, and if she has children.

I think the whole idea of diversity and and celebrating diversity in in many, many ways is really carried out within Liberal Judaism and within LJY Netzer, who are the children who are the next generation. And I’ve seen that through my daughter, Rabbi Elii’s wife taught her Kabbalat Torah and I think has been enormously and very positively an influence on Helen and Claire and I think welcoming in and valuing people who who think in a different way, valuing people of different races and different religions, I think is tremendously positive.

Rachel Goldhill

I feel that one of the big strengths of Judaism traditionally, is that we’ve always included everyone children with the oldest you know, if you think of what Jewish weddings, youngsters and the grandmas and the great grandmas, everyone all gets up and does a little dance together and at Seder night you have a whole family. And unfortunately, I think in society generally that has tended in the last 30/40 years, people are doing things more in separate groups, and that’s beginning to permeate into shuls as well, where you get a lot of separate, you know, the, I mean, obviously youth are very important they’re our future. But I think that that whole thing of having the chance to do things together, and also having chance to do age specific things, when it’s relevant, is very important for Judaism. It’s something that Judaism could give to help to do for themselves to become thriving communities, but also to give to the rest of the population.

Jackie Richards

I became quite active in the youth movement at North London Progressive. After a while I met my wife Sheila, I persuaded her to come with me to North London Progressive we both became active in the running of the youth group. And suddenly we were committed! I was ‘that damned young upstart’’ which is how the majority of the North London establishment saw me.

We had what was known as FLIPJYG the Federation of Liberal Progressive Jewish Youth Groups. And because of our connection with North London, we were on the committee, we were running North London, Sheila and I became involved in FLIPJYG. And through FLIPJYG we became involved in the youth section of the World Union.
We kept the youth section together for a long time. And to do that, we needed Lily Montagu!

So she was there. We didn’t have a great deal to do with her. She would…she was there. And we’d say good morning, Miss Lily. And She’d say ‘hello’. We’d get on with our work then she be in and out.

So we were, on the one hand, involved with her through World Union and the youth sections and so on, but I was also working at the Oxford and St George’s Boys Club. I was a club manager at O St G’s. Sheila helped out there I taught in the religion school at Oxford and St Georges. And also involved as a member of North London Progressive Synagogue, the youth club, World Union youth section, Federation youth section.

And so I’ve got five children, and all those five – they’ve all come through the synagogue, they’ve gone through religion school. They all went off to Kadima. enjoyed it, loved every second of it and benefited from it. They all to this day have friends that they’ve made in the liberal movement. Very close friends. And wherever they are spread around the world. They’re all part of the liberal scene.”

Lionel Lassman

Laura, our oldest daughter, she is, was chair of the synagogue for four years and did a great deal of work to improve the synagogue. She’s our oldest . She’s married to Danny Rich and between them they have eight children.

Sheila Lassman

My father was one of eight

Lionel Lassman

Yes your father was also the treasurer of the synagogue so it’s gone down in generations his father, he was chair, I was chair, laura was chair. Our second child Michael is incredibly involved in the synagogue. He never misses a service, Friday night, Shabbat, And it matters hugely to him, that community. And he has two children. one of whom was deeply, deeply involved and has now moved her allegiance to climate change. She’s an activist in a big way. And then we have a third child, Rebecca, who is a member, but lives in South London in Dulwich , doesn’t want to join South London, because Finchley has always been where they’re comfortable.

Sheila Lassman

When I was 18 I left home and left here and went to university. I joined the Liberal Jewish society at university which was lovely because we used to meet in people’s houses and have a meal, shared meal. And I remember the girl who organised it always wore a yarmulke, which I thought was amazing because that wasn’t the case here, it was still quite traditional in some ways here.

Rebecca Shtasel

When I was 14 a girl that I knew, said that she was going on this Jewish summer camp. And she asked if I wanted to go because I’d been like ‘oh my Dad’s Jewish’. I think just the general sort of atmosphere of how fun everything felt, and how communal and everything. It just all felt really full of joy. And like togetherness, and just being part of something just felt really great. And then I continued on my LJY journey, and I went on tour. So that was the first time I’d been to Israel. Thinking back, it was such a strange journey, because none of my family knew anything. So I was the one that was finding everything out really. It felt like I was kind of going in blind and just taking all this information. And then I remember just feeling so confused that we went to Israel. And everyone was like talking about ‘ooh when did you last come on holiday here, and I was like, why did everyone come on holiday here? Not really quite understanding it and all of that. I didn’t quite understand what Israel was and what it meant. But again, loved it, had the best time and then I started teaching at the South London Liberal synagogue. And then I went on Shnat Netzer with LJY. And so that was 8 months in Israel. And that was kind of the most pivotal point for me, I think, because I was having this in depth Jewish education, it was like my first time on camp, but times 10, you know, I just felt so happy and, like, connected so much to being in a Jewish space with Jewish people. And so when I came back from that, I was so clear that Judaism was my thing. And I had this amazing community around me from it.

Fran Kurlansky

My parents insisted I try a Jewish youth club. And at that time, there were Jewish youth clubs everywhere, unlike there is now. They were for late teenagers and early 20s, early 20s. So I tried them at several, several synagogues. So I went to each of them and hated every one of them. And because nobody looked after me, and all the girls were sort of dressed up and fancy and the rest of it. So I refused to go to any more but a friend of my parents said their son was going to a very nice Jewish youth club. And that was in Streatham. So he would take me along to it. And I resisted this for several months. And then I finally gave in and went and that was at South London liberal synagogue in Streatham. And I just loved it. And that was it that captured me for liberal Judaism. That programme that was taking place on my first visit was a talk on interplanetary travel. I remember that and that was one of the things not that really made me very enthusiastic, that they will sit it was reasonably interesting, sensible programme that somebody had prepared. And really, it swept me into into the movement and eventually I joined South London Liberal Synagogue.

Rosita Rosenberg

When I came to Brighton, she told me that they were starting a youth group for 13 year olds. So I became a member at 13. And for my sins, they made me the secretary to the committee at 13. I didn’t know much about being a secretary. But anyway, that’s what they made me. Now, my mother was a pianist. And they decided they would put on some shows as youth groups. And so she became the pianist for the shows. So that’s how she became involved and joined as members of the shul. So I’ve been involved and a member of the shul for about 67 years of the 68 that I’ve been here. In 1957 I met my husband, youth club and he lived in Bexhill and came to Brighton because this was the only place that he felt he could meet Jewish people because Bexhill didn’t have many Jewish people living there.

Ann Carr

I came to West End with my mother, and there was this liberal club for girls, so of course I joined it. And I wasn’t aware that it was liberal at all, it was just a Jewish club for Jewish girls.

We met, sang, dance, played netball, did the kind of things you do, did some needle work. It was mostly in the evening after school. Lily Montagu and her sister were there they …they ran the place more or less. It wasn’t specifically Jewish, it was just a club for girls. She formed that for girls who worked in the shops in the east West End of London and because the shops were open on Saturday, they couldn’t go to synagogue. So she had it on Saturday afternoon, these clubs and then during the week when they can get away. Basically it was for girls in that part of London.

Myrtle Weiner

I would think it was in about 1951, we became members of the West Central youth club, which was Lily Montagu’s club. It was held at that time, at Hand Court, just off Holborn. There were many activities there. And of course, you have to remember it was largely through attendances to the youth club that Lily founded the synagogue, certainly West Central, came into being. Originally it was a girls’ club. And, so, during and after the war, it became a mixed club. They had been a bit of West Central boys’ club, in Fitzroy Square. There was a wide range of activities: there was a choir, there was an opera group, there were music groups, there were poetry groups. there was a very, very wide range of activities. And of course, when the girls club and the boys club joined forces, that obviously grew.

In Hampstead, West Hampstead, there was an old Jewish club, a famous Jewish club, called Maccabee, which was very much an Israel orientated thing, which we used to go to now and again. And there were very good music appreciation classes there, but it was the West Central ones that were very, very influential. And it’s such a shame that now, at the beginning of the 21st century, you know, this kind of clubs have disappeared. And, you know, all that’s left for the youngsters is to wander the streets, and we all know what that starts. A shame really.

Stanley Freed

We did achieve one thing, which was to our credit, we introduced Harry Jacobi to his wife Rose, through a pen friend scheme.And we put Harry in touch with Rose who was, I think In Bombay, and he went out there, became a minister out there. And in due course, married her!

And of course he’s responsible for Margaret and the others who are now ministers of the movement.

Lionel Lassman

I grew up in Southgate where my father was a rabbi for about 20 years. It was a very warm community. It was quite large. It grew to be, I think, about 800 whilst he was the rabbi there. And there was a big cheder with over 100 pupils at one time, I think. It encouraged its young people. Whilst I was there, we formed a youth group, which is still going, more than forty years later, more than forty years later. And he was really encouraging about that and got really involved in setting up a youth group.

Rabbi Margaret Jacobi

The most important and significant lessons I learned as part of my Jewish education undoubtedly came from time spent like on camp and as part of a Jewish youth movement. I think just being able to learn about my faith in the context of people my own age and being a part of this community with such a rich history but also with so much future ahead of us as young Jewish people that was definitely really powerful. There was such a sense of this united respect for learning about where we come from, but also such an amazing culture of always asking why and challenging traditions and convention for more sort of modern and relevant customs and ideals. 
So my fondest memories of my childhood and teenage years are of being in a crowded hall with hundreds of my peers, singing songs and prayers as this one huge joyful voice and being made to feel a part of something really big and really special. I think Jewish youth movements are so important for putting your faith into a context that is neither the home nor synagogue, but something that young people are more willing and excited to carry with them in their day to day life, having been surrounded by so many likeminded peers from all over the world, who ultimately at the start only have Judaism in common, and then learn that with that one common thing come so much more like kindness, community, team spirit and joy. 



This podcast series of oral histories is part of the exhibition: Lily’s Legacy – Voices and Visions of Liberal Judaism, a project supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

It was produced by Miri Lawrence and Lucia Scazzocchio, Sound editing and design by Lucia Scazzocchio, and special thanks to all the contributors who agreed to share their stories. For more information about what you’ve just heard, do visit the exhibition website,  www.lilyslegacyproject.com



To download or share all the podcasts in this series go to lilyslegacy.transistor.fm/subscribe

Through The Generations

Lily Montagu was dedicated to the needs of young people, especially young girls who lived in poverty in the East End of London. She founded The West Central Jewish Girls’ Club in 1893, together with her sister, Marian (1868 – 1965), and their cousin, Beatrice Franklin (1871 – 1959). Lily Montagu helped create a club that gave working class Jewish girls the opportunity to develop themselves socially, intellectually and spiritually, through classes, Sabbath services, concerts, and outings. Since that time Liberal Judaism has remained committed to the needs and future of its young people.