London is not just the capital of England, it also happens to be the Jewish capital, with over 200,000 members of the tribe living in the metropolis.
But while London may not have as many Jewish sights and facilities as its New York cousin, it’s the quality that London Jews are proud of, not the quantity.
Over the years, the Jews of London have divided into two distinct groups – the North London Jews and the Essex Jews. North London Jews have built up their own clique and social life, while Essex Jews have done pretty much the same in their own territory, and neither would ever admit to visiting the other’s ‘hood.
Not so much gangland warfare as invert social snobbery, with North London’s middle-class Jews poking fun at Essex’s working-class Jews, and the Jews of Essex poking fun at their North London cousins. That’s not to say there’s no wealth among the Essex Jewish community – far from it. Some of Britain’s richest Jews live in the area, including electronics tycoon Alan “Amstrad” Sugar.
North London Jews live in some of London’s wealthiest areas, such as Regents Park, St John’s Wood (aka St Jew’s Wood) and millionaires’ row The Bishops Avenue in East Finchley, Media tycoon and adult TV channel owner Richard Desmond has his pad here.
Want to get a taste of the sights and sounds – and a few smells – of London Jewish life? Here's the essential stuff to do.
Visit Golders Green and pig out. This North London landmark is home to the largest selection of kosher eateries. Whether your passion is a shwarma or KFC-style chicken, there’s something for everyone.
Top tip: Solly’s is Europe’s largest kosher restaurant, offering Israeli food. DKFC is good for chicken and burgers. Both located on Golders Green Road, London, NW11.
Get back to your roots. London’s East End. Brick Lane and Whitechapel are some of the names associated with the Jewish East End. For many Jews this was their first experience of living in London – and the area was also home to all kinds of Jewish life and culture, including Yiddish theatre and Jewish sports clubs. These days a handful of Jews still live here, as the area mainly has turned from Yiddish to Bangladeshi. New developments have replaced many of the old Jewish buildings, but there remains a subtle Jewish feeling all around when looking at some of the old shop names.
Top tip: The Brick Lane Bagel Bake in Brick Lane – not the best bagels in town, but at 15p (25 cents) you can’t complain about the value.
Book yourself a tour of the Jewish East End. The Jewish East End Celebration Society organises various tours: www.jeecs.org.uk
Go to shul. With over 200,000 Jews in London there are, as you might expect, plenty of synagogues to choose from, whether you want to pray or just pay a visit and admire the architecture.
Top tip: Check out Bevis Marks in the City of London – opened in 1701, this Sephardi shul is the oldest synagogue in use today in Britain - and West London Synagogue near Marble Arch in the West End was the first Reform shul to open.
Addresses: Bevis Marks, 2 Heneage Lane, London EC3A 5DQ.
West London Synagogue, 33 Seymour Place, London W1.
Visit the Jewish Museum. Want to find out how the Jews came to be in London and indeed the rest of the UK? Then a few hours spent at the Jewish Museum will be worth while. Various ongoing exhibitions.
Top tip: Get to the museum before January 2006 and see the Albert Einstein: Man of the Century exhbition which features just about everything you always wanted to know about the man.
Address: Jewish Museum, Camden Town. Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert Street, London NW1 7NB
Tel: 020 7284 1997 : web: www.jewishmuseum.org.uk
Cemeteries. While not as opulent or as impressive as European Jewish cemeteries, there are still some cemeteries worth visiting.
Top tip: Golders Green crematorium has played host to the final resting places of many rich and famous Jews including T-Rex frontman Marc Bolan, neurologist Sigmund Freud (and his daughter Anna Freud) comedian Peter Sellers (his ashes are also there), comedy actor Sid James (star of Carry On films) musician and legendary harmonica player Larry Adler, Oliver! composer Lionel Bart, 70s rocker Paul Kossoff, jazz musician and club owner Ronnie Scott, and songwriter and comedian Bud Flanagan. And even though he wasn’t Jewish, it’s worth checking out to see the grave of War Of The Worlds and Time Machine writer HG Wells.
Address: Hoop Lane, London, NW11.