Seeing English history through the Jewish lens

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03 July 2020
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Images from the @lost_stone Instagram account. Explore these and further images from the One Lost Stone project research on Instagram and Facebook and on the lostjews.org.uk website
“What happens when you tell the story from the point of view of the people who were not in power?” This is the heart of the question that Dr Julia Pascal asks, and which is uncovered in her research into the history of the Sephardi Jewish community in England and told in the One Lost Stone event, launching 5th July 2020.

Ahead of the launch of the One Lost Stone project Helen Tovey, Editor of Family Tree, caught up with Dr Julia Pascal, Artistic Director at the Pascal Theatre Company, to learn a little more about her research into the history of the Sephardi Jewish community in England.

Well-known is the historical fact that Jews were banished from England in 1290 by King Edward I. But what are their origins in England, when did they return after banishment - and under what circumstances? Dr Julia Pascal has long been intrigued by these questions…

The story of Jews in England is caught up in several of the major dates in British history – from the arrival of William the Conqueror on British shores in 1066, and the Jews that came over with the Norman regime, brought for their money-lending businesses (as Christians were forbidden from practising usury – i.e. lending money with interest).

Scroll forward two centuries, and the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 by King Edward I is the first deportation of Jews in the whole of Europe. “This is a history you do not learn,” explains Dr Pascal, “and it’s because I did not know this history, and had not been taught it in school, that I thought – well let’s look at English history through the Jewish lens.”

Well known among the details of history that we learn at school are the Protestant Reformation, the Spanish Inquisition, and the changing religious and political landscape of Europe from the late 15th and on into the 16th centuries. But what of their impact on the Sephardi Jewish community in Europe? Banished from Spain in 1492, they made their way to Holland, and, in time, during the era of Oliver Cromwell arrived once again in England.

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Why did Cromwell allow the Sephardim into England? Dr Pascal maintains that this was a decision based both in religious thinking (that the Hebrew heritage of the Jews meant that they were essential to the Second Coming of Christ) and politically motivated too (with the Sephardim's linguistic and financial skills and international contacts – all assets for the seedling days of British empire building).

Hear the full interview with Dr Julia Pascal

To listen to the full interview with Dr Julia Pascal, to learn about available records to research, and cemeteries to visit, please go to https://www.family-tree.co.uk/how-to-guides/family-tree-podcast/ - Choose episode 11. The interview starts 12 mins 45 seconds in.

Find out about the One Lost Stone project

Date span of the One Lost Stone project – 1066 to 2020

Format of the One Lost Stone project – film, playlets, poetry, research, stories and songs telling the ‘unknown’ stories to shed a new light on history and the lives of the Sepharim

How can you join in with the One Lost Stone project? – Please visit https://www.lostjews.org.uk/ - the live launch will take place online on 5th July 2020.