Gentiles often appeared in the news sections of the London Yiddish press, and sometimes they also appeared in the regular “feuilleton” section in character sketches and fiction, stories and scenes from immigrant East-End Jewish life. Many of these portrayals were humorous local scenarios and imagined tales. This talk will look at a broad section of how and where Gentile characters appear and their relationship to the Jewish immigrant.
Gentiles fix cars and do physical chores for the hapless immigrant. The wily immigrant hoodwinks the Gentile recruiting officers during the First World War. The stern Gentile gatekeeper of British government politics refuses access to the naïve immigrant wanting to help. The paternalistic English police officer gives directions to parts of London never before visited by an East-End immigrant. A proud fascist blackshirt is confused when he sees his respected Jewish neighbors in a strident communist counter-demonstration. Yet the word goy is also used by Jews describing each other: skipping the bus fare, not sharing their Yiddish newspaper, or being rude to their neighbor.
About the Speaker
Vivi Lachs is a historian of London’s Jewish East End, a Yiddishist, and a performer. She is a Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London working on the project Making and Remaking the Jewish East End. Her book Whitechapel Noise draws new historical detail from London Yiddish poetry and song. In 2019, she was a Yiddish Book Centre translation fellow, which culminated in her latest book London Yiddishtown – a selection of stories translated from the Yiddish from the 1930s and 1940s and incorporating a new history of London’s Yiddish writers of that period. Lachs records London Yiddish songs with the bands Klezmer Klub and Katsha’nes, co-runs the Yiddish Open Mic Cafe and the Great Yiddish Parade – a marching band bringing Yiddish songs of protest back onto the streets. She also leads East End tours.