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Hebrew and Jewish Studies blog


Library news and subject support for Hebrew and Jewish Studies


Snapshots of Modern Jewish History

By Vanessa Freedman, on 11 July 2018

Phase 3 of the Uncovering UCL’s Jewish Pamphlet Collections project is now well under way. Last academic year we started a pilot Connected Curriculum initiative in partnership with UCL’s Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies, where student volunteers helped to enhance the digitised pamphlets with accurate searchable transcriptions. The pilot will continue next academic year: if you’re interested in taking part, contact us for details. The group of volunteers was led by Hebrew & Jewish Studies PhD student William Pimlott, who selected a shortlist of pamphlets for the volunteers to choose from. William has also curated an exhibition, Snapshots of Modern Jewish History. He presented the exhibition to UCL students, staff and members of the public in June as part of UCL Special Collections Presents… and it is now installed in cases outside the Donaldson Room in the Main Library until 13th August. Exhibition case William writes “UCL Special Collections is endowed with remarkable documents that testify to the richness of modern Jewish history. Here we have selected a few that would interest the public and encourage visitors to step deeper into our collections.” Here are the items included in the exhibition, with links to the digitised pamphlets:

  1. Todah ṿe-ḳol zimrah = Form of prayer and thanksgiving for the successes obtained by the troops of Her Majesty and those of her allies in the Crimea … to be used in all the Synagogues of the United Congregations in the British Empire… London: Wertheimer, 1855.


Many immigrant British Jews identified proudly with the country they had made their home, and celebrations of military successes were occasions for manifestations of patriotism. This pamphlet is especially interesting as relations between Russia and Britain were important for British Jews due to the large Jewish population in the region.

2. Davis, Israel. Sir Moses Montefiore: a biographical sketch. London: “Jewish Chronicle” Office, 1885. From the library of Albert Montefiore Hyamson.


A towering figure across the world, and viewed by some historians as a crucial figure in the development of Jewish celebrities (some argue that Theodor Herzl took on this mantle), Montefiore lived for over a hundred years and was a crucial actor in British communal politics. His enormous philanthropy made Britain an important player in international Jewish developments too.


3. Montefiore, Moses. An appeal on behalf of the famishing Jews in the Holy Land. London: Wertheimer, 1854. Donated to the Mocatta Library by the Guildhall Library London.


Long before mass immigration to Palestine started there was a community of Jews in the Middle East that needed international support. This pamphlet calls for help but also plays a secondary function, fostering a sense of Jewish international solidarity.

4. Some account of the two journeys to Russia, undertaken by Sir M. Montefiore, Bart., in 1846 and 1872, to further the interests of the Russian Jews. London: Darling and Son, 1882. From the library of Asher Myers.


The demographic and cultural importance of Russian Jewry for international Jewry was indisputable, and the vulnerable situation they faced in Tsarist Russia (and in the context of other nationalisms developing in the region) provoked intense interest and concern for Jews across the world. Montefiore, as a leading international philanthropic Jewish leader, was involved in attempts to help them.

5. Highton, Henry. Syllabus of a course of lectures, addressed especially to Jews, to be delivered in … Whitechapel, London, on the subject of the Messiah as revealed in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets … [London: s.n., 1844] From the library of Asher Myers


Letter to editor of the Voice of JacobIncludes a handwritten letter to the editor of the Voice of Jacob, a Jewish newspaper, requesting him to include this syllabus in the next edition, and the editor’s reply, explaining why this would not be appropriate.

The East End of London has had Jewish connections dating back much further than the mass immigration of the 1880s onwards, and as long as there have been Jews there have been attempts by Christians to convert them.

6. The struggle for the Hebrew language in Palestine. Issued in German by the Actions Committee of the Zionist Organization; translated for the Federation of American Zionists. New York: [Federation of American Zionists], 1914. From the library of Albert Montefiore Hyamson.


It is now universally accepted that the language of Israel is Hebrew, but in the early pre-State years language was a fiercely contested issue, with many German Jews (and others) arguing that German ought to be the language of its scientific institutions. This pamphlet reports on this conflict (which Hebrew eventually won).

7. La Grande-Bretagne, la Palestine et les Juifs: le peuple juif célèbre sa charte nationale (Great Britain, Palestine and the Jews: the Jewish people celebrates its national charter). [London]: Organisation Sioniste, Bureau de Londres, 1918. From the library of Albert Montefiore Hyamson.


The Balfour declaration of 1917 was pivotal in Zionism’s development and the later establishment of the state of Israel. This pamphlet, printed in French, shows how Jewish communities all over the world linked Great Britain (and the Jewish community there) with the future of Zionism.

8. Great Britain. Air Ministry. Dos girangl fun Briṭanye: a din ṿe-ḥeshbn fun der lufṭ‑minisṭerye ṿegn di groyse ṭeg fun 8ṭn oygusṭ bizn 31ṭn oḳṭober 1940 (The Battle of Britain: an account from the Air Ministry about the greats days from the 8th of August to the 31st of October). Souvenir copy commemorating the Battle of Britain, in aid of the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund. [London: Galil Pub. Co., 1942?]



Yiddish was once a much more widely spoken language in Britain than it is today: there were newspapers, literary journals, weekly publications, theatres and artistic clubs and groups. This information pamphlet in Yiddish printed by the Government was designed to inform British Yiddish speakers (and perhaps those abroad) about one of the most crucial aerial battles of all time.

One Response to “Snapshots of Modern Jewish History”

  • 1
    David Birnbaum wrote on 25 November 2019:

    My father Prof. Solomon (Shloyme) A. Birnbaum of London University translated “The Battle of Britain” Dus girangl fun britanye from English into Yiddish for the British Ministry of Information. I have always understood that it was also to be delivered to the Jews in occupied Europe by some means, to give them some sort of hope. He also translated a much bigger work “Bomber Command” into Yiddish, but for some reason it was never published. It was difficult, because there were many technical terms not normally found in Yiddish. If you compare the title on the cover with the title inside, you will see that the spelling (orthography) is different. The one inside is his spelling. He was quite upset that they changed his spelling system on the cover without even consulting him. He was an expert in Yiddish, and wrote the first properly organised grammar of Yiddish in 1915, (published in German in 1918), which was re-published (with additions) for many years – in fact a new reprinting of the original 1918 edition has just been published! He also wrote a Yiddish grammar in English “Yiddish: A Survey and a Grammar”, 1979, second edition 2016. He was also a pioneer (and lecturer) in Hebrew Palaeography.
    His father was Nathan Birnbaum, who organised the first Conference on the Yiddish Language in Czernowitz in 1908 ( SAB was also there, at age 16.)
    David Birnbaum, Director of Nathan & Solomon Birnbaum Archives, Toronto. (Nov, 2019.)

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