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Jewess » The American Jewess: Passover in 19th Century London

The American Jewess: Passover in 19th Century London


by Rebecca Honig Friedman and the Jewish Women's Archive Staff

american-jewess-jan-1897.jpgThe following is cross-posted on the Jewesses With Attitude blog.

Though The American Jewess was an American magazine, it included a fair amount of foreign correspondence pieces, as was not uncommon for 19th century publications. In honor of Passover (three more days to clean!), this week’s featured TAJ article is “Passover Eve in Petticoat Lane”, an account of the Passover prep in London’s Jewish marketplace.
Besides this piece being interesting as a documentary description of late 19th century life in London, it’s fascinating for the writer’s clear invocation of class issues, though that seems more a natural by-product of her own upper-class biases than a deliberate attempt to raise an explicit discussion about socioeconomic divisions between Jews.

So, what we learn from this piece:

- Even back then people had all sorts of “Passover cakes” (including macaroons, of course, but does anyone know what cinnamon balls or stuffed monkeys are? I’m assuming the latter is not to be taken literally.)

- English Jewesses were pretty, in an “oriental” sort of way.

- The American Jewess took a perverse, superior sort of delight in the quaint, lower class young Jewess (what exactly is meant by “a truly Jewish shrug” anyway?) but one wonders how she would have felt about the little girl’s mother.

Such inter-Jewish class issues may seem like a thing of the past — aren’t we all upper middle class? — but this piece reminds me a lot of my third grade field trip to the Lower East Side, which just happens to be where I grew up, and how, standing in front of the world-famous Guss’s pickles, my best friend, who lived uptown, said, “What a scuzzy neighborhood.”

But I’m not bitter or anything.

Anyway, here is “Passover Eve in Petticoat Lane,” posted below in its entirety with noteworthy bits highlighted and underlined. Or read it on the JWA site (linked above), in PDF, image or text form.

tajpassoverprep.jpg

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