There are so many ways of looking at Jewish history and the Spiro Ark has always been involved in many different approaches to this subject. The past few years have seen a growing interest in the search for Jewish roots and there has been an absolute surge in genealogy. We have all seen with amusement, famous personalities who have begun to discover that some of their roots are beyond doubt Jewish. These range from Stephen Fry to David Suchet whose family from Lithuania had a name originating as Shochet (Jewish religious slaughterer). As part of this search into our past, until very recently, picture postcards have been overlooked. But now some serious search and research has resulted in intriguing collections of these cards. The Spiro Ark is very happy to present a postcard exhibition at City Hall from the 15th December using cards from the unique and vast collection of David Pearlman who has collected them for so many years that he no longer remembers when he first started.
Postcards began their life in Austria in 1869 followed by the UK one year later and then virtually every other country began to use postcards which went through the postal system at half the price of a letter. A letter was one penny. A postcard was half a penny. It was as simple as that. Pictures were permitted on postcards from the 1890's and from about the year 1900 there was an absolute boom in their usage, for the postal system was then the main means of communication. At the time people used postcards in very much the same way that today we use a mobile phone. There were 10 deliveries a day in London and the system was so efficient that everyone was able to rely upon the efficiency of collection and delivery. As a result of the huge demand, there were thousands of postcard production companies throughout the world who which satisfying this growing demand from the general public. The craze of postcard sending and collecting gripped the world from 1900 to the First World War and during this period an astonishing range of postcards in terms of style and production methods appeared. Companies hired designers, photographers and artists to produce pictures on every conceivable subject and it should come as no surprise therefore that the Jewish world, both of western and eastern Europe, should be caught up in this craze. The corner shops of London's East End and those of Warsaw in Poland were filled with a variety of picture postcards, with many illustrating every aspect of Jewish life with new cards appearing almost daily to meet the continuing and growing demand. It is from this world of postcards that we are happy to present Jewish life in the UK 100 years ago.
One historian described these postcards as Time Capsules, for they help to capture moments in time from the past. Until a few years ago, history books often had just a few illustrations using postcards. It is only recently that serious collectors of cards have accumulated some amazing, specialist collections. Historians and those interested in family histories can now enjoy a more serious look into the past through the eyes of these postcards. The exhibition is from the world of our grandparents and great grandparents of 100 years ago. Despite the changes in lifestyle over the years, much of our Jewish traditions today remains solidly based and the same. We see Jews at work and Jews at prayer. We see them going to synagogue and studying the Talmud. We see the Sabbath and festivals and also the Jewish lifestyle. We also see something of the doubts about these new immigrants and the status of these "foreign produced" people with all of their strange customs and mannerisms. We see some of the jokes about Jews, though interestingly in pre-Holocaust days it was often Jews laughing at themselves. But most of all we see Jews settling into the UK and making a serious contribution to English society which stretches well beyond the small confines of Jewish life.
The exhibition is at City Hall, London SE1 and runs from 15th December 2008 to 2nd January 2009, every weekday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.