Just recently my oldest son, Aaron, found and forwarded the page above taken from the 1901 Census in Gateshead, England. The red box sets off the names of Abraham Cowan, my great-grandfather on my father’s side, and his wife, Rachel. (You may not be able to see it, but in the upper right hand corner there are number keys for enumerating people who are (1) blind, (2) deaf & dumb, (3) lunatic, and (4) imbecile or feeble-minded. Obviously Political Correctness had not yet reached Northern England in 1901.)
The census also includes my great-grandparents’ address from over 100 years ago. 200 Askew Road West, Gateshead, England. That information, a bit of web research and Google Maps led me to something pretty interesting about my family’s past.
I grew up understanding that my great-grandparents came from Newcastle, England, via Russia and the pogroms. Well, almost. As you can see from the map below Newcastle is just across the River Tyne from Gateshead, which is and apparently was part of “Greater Newcastle.” But Abraham is listed on the census as a British Subject born in Germany. Rachel, a British Subject born in Russia.
So far nothing really new, but I also learned that 200 Askew Street West still exists ( Red dot “A” in the map above) and after some generic research on the city (note above the proximity of Askew to Bensham Road) found this tidbit:
The Bensham district is home to a community of Haredi Jews consisting of about 500 families and is referred to as Little Jerusalem by its non-Jewish residents. Within the community is the Gateshead Yeshiva, the largestYeshiva in Europe, and other Jewish educational institutions with international enrolments. Following the holocaust, the area became home to the largest Orthodox Jewish education complex in postwar Europe and the most significant outside of the United States and Israel. (Source.)
So my great-grandparents most likely lived in an orthodox community of Jews in England before migrating to the United States (before 1910, when they appear in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin census).
Little Jerusalem, 1901…Big Jerusalem, 2011.
Now, it’s not surprising that they lived in a Jewish enclave…
For several centuries before the emancipation of European Jewry, most of Europe’s Jews were forced to live in closed communities, where both the culture and their religious observances were preserved. This occurred both because of internal pressure within the communities and because of the outside world’s refusal to accept them otherwise. In the overwhelmingly Christian society of the time, the only way for Jews to gain social acceptance was to convert, thereby abandoning all ties with one’s own family and community. Few avenues existed, especially in the ghetto, for individuals to negotiate between the dominant culture and the community, because this was handled by the larger community as a whole. (Source.)
..but it amazes me that they apparently lived in a Haredi, sometimes termed, Ultra-Orthodox, community. Because of my secular upbringing I would have never guessed such a close tie to the Orthodox. Frankly, no one in my family spoke well of them. In Israel, I think it’s safe to say that among the secular and non-orthodox Jews, the Haredi are, at very best, tolerated. They dress differently. They keep to themselves. They, as a matter of belief, decline to serve in the IDF.
The Haredi do not accept me as a Jew because my mother was not Jewish. This is the law in Israel and I am therefore “without religion” in the eyes of the state.
The Haredi willingly set themselves apart from all others and their dedication to the strict observance of rabbinical dictates impacts their every waking moment, especially during the Sabbath and the Feasts.
But without the Orthodox, would a distinct Jewish identity, and therefore modern Israel, exist?
The easy and correct answer is yes, because God said it would, but it appears the Haredi are part of His plan. The Jews…
“…violated the rules of history by staying alive, totally at odds with common sense and historical evidence. They outlived all their former enemies, including vast empires such as the Romans and the Greeks. They angered the world with their return to their homeland after 2000 years of exile and after the murder of six million of their brothers and sisters. ” (Spuriously attributed to Olive Schreiner, who died in 1920, but still true.)
To balance my negativity I’ll mention Chabad.
… in over 1000 cities around the world. By 2010, there were an estimated 3,600 Chabad Institutions worldwide, in 70 countries, providing outreach and educational activities for Jews through Jewish community centers, synagogues, schools and camps. (Source.)
“Chabad” is an acronym for Chochmah, Binah, Da’at (חכמה, בינה, דעת): “Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge.” I’ve spoken to three Chabad-aligned rabbis since we’ve moved to Jerusalem. Each of them, ignoring one notable area of blindness, seems to be wise, understanding and knowledgeable in accordance with the ideals of their organization. One of them told me, “There are three things in the world that can be found everywhere, F15s, Coke and Chabad.”
As for the last of these (and the Haredi role in prophecy as it unfolds), I’m grateful.