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Jews have resided in England‘s capital as early as the Norman Conquest in 1066, if not earlier. For religious and security reasons they lived as a compact community, whose site is remembered by the name of one of the city’s oldest streets, Old Jewry.

There was little peace for Jews in those early times. As moneylenders they were not likely to endear themselves to the barons who were in their debt or to peasants who, urged on by fanatical priests, blamed Jews for their woes. However, as the property of the king (and called the “king’s chattels”), Jews were under royal protection. But this privilege was withdrawn when, after a series of extortions, Jews were expelled by Edward I in 1290.

A new and happier chapter began with the readmission of Jews in 1656 under Oliver Cromwell. At first, the handful of Sephardim from the Mediterranean countries who lived in London met for worship in their small synagogue on Creechurch Lane. However, with the arrival of more Sephardim from Holland, a larger synagogue was erected in 1701 at Bevis Marks. It still stands today, cherished as the mother synagogue of English Jews.

In the wake of the Sephardim came the Ashkenazim from Central Europe, and they too set up their special house of worship at Duke’s Place, where they met for prayer as early as 1690.

London has always been the home of England’s Jewish communal institutions: the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the elected representative body of British Jewry (1760); the Jewish Board of Guardians (1859); the United Synagogue (1870); Jews’ College (1855); the Anglo-Jewish Association (1871), and a network of educational, social, and philanthropic institutions. London is also the seat of the Chief Rabbinate of the British Commonwealth, the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), the Maccabi World Union, and the Sephardi World Federation. London’s first Jewish Lord Mayor was Sir David Salomons, elected in 1855. The Lord Mayor Sir Bernard Waley-Cohen elected in September 1960 was Jewish. The famous London school, the Jews’ Free School, and the old and beloved Ashkenazic Great Synagogue at Duke’s Place were demolished by enemy action in World War II.

Today, the Jewish population is roughly 210,000 out of a total London population of about 7.5 million. The mass of Jewish immigrants came from Russia and Poland beginning in 1882, fleeing Tsarist pogroms. They settled largely in the East End of the metropolis. These immigrants were largely responsible for developing the tailoring, cabinet making, fur trade, and similar industries. In recent years, Jews have moved into the outer suburbs of London. (See also England.)

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