The Witness project provided an interesting opportunity to track the history of Sheffield and Leeds. Our focus throughout the projects was on the ‘community’ aspects of life. Both our interviews shed light on the strong sense of cohesion within the Jewish community, and a largely positive relationship between members of the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. It was interesting to note that the Jewish community in Leeds had stayed large and very strong, whilst the community in Sheffield had diminished in size quite substantially over the years.
It was also interesting to hear about the numerous ways in which the Jewish community was (and is) maintained, through events and activities- keeping it vibrant and very active. Both interviewees did, however, note that the Jewish community in areas such as Sheffield and Leeds suffered as young Jewish people left to go to central hubs such as London. We also focussed on issues such as discrimination and wider global events impacting the community in Britain, this allowed for discussion around issues of immigration, which both interviewees commented on.
Both the interviewees stressed that immigration enhanced the community and that those moving to Britain were welcomed and supported. Overall the interviews provided a picture of a strong solid community, with few tensions with the outside community in Sheffield and Leeds. Whilst both said that they had never experienced discrimination, they knew people who had- or had read about it in Jewish newspapers, and so were very aware of incidents.
Both interviewees also expressed a notion of the significance of marriage out of the religion- on had a mother who was Jewish and a father who wasn’t, and stressed that it had been difficult for her siblings to accept this. She pointed to the significance of the mother in continuing the Jewish family line, and notes that she was fully Jewish because her mother was Jewish. The difficulty of entering Judaism was also mentioned, both interviewees notes that while it was an inclusive religion, a certain level of commitment needed to be shown through a testing process.
It was noted that increasingly marriage into and out of the religion had increased over the last few decades, even within more Orthodox communities. Overall, the project was extremely interesting for tracing the demographic and social changes on the Jewish community in Sheffield and Leeds, and showing the impact of wider political factors in the mid to late C20th.
Interviewers: Thomas Parkinson and Lilian Summerfield