Murray Freedman


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The Leeds Jewish community was, at first, overwhelmingly working class, with were few intellectuals amongst the immigrants that came to the city. They often faced hostility from their non-Jewish neighbours at all levels, with, of course, no anti-racial legislation in those days to protect them. Some cafes in the centre of town, for example, refused to serve them. Violence would sometimes flare up - culminating in the infamous riots in 1917 when a mob attacked the Leylands, destroying property and looting Jewish shops. Later on, particularly after the First World War, anti-Semitism took the form of job discrimination. In an effort to counter this many Jews changed their foreign sounding surnames, and thus the name of Cohen might be transformed to Collins or Cowen, Levi changed to Lawrence, and Goldberg to Grant. Social discrimination went without saying and, to give another example, Jews later found it almost impossible to join local golf clubs (a situation that still exists today) - with the result that they had, in 1923, to set up their own.

In the backlash that followed the assassination of the Czar in 1881, persecution of Jews, endemic in Russia, intensified. Frequent bloody pogroms ensued, so that the flow of emigration from Russia became a flood. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 settled in this country with more than 10,000 of them coming to Leeds in the decades of the 1880's and 1890's alone. It is from these immigrants that most of today's Leeds Jews are descended, and this immigration, together with natural growth, combined to produce a Leeds Jewish population which peaked at some 22-25,000 by the late 1920's.

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