Education, Rights and Resistance

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Date:1840 - 1849 (c.)

Description:Image: Birmingham's Hebrew School (Cornish's Guide to Birmingham and its Manufactories, 1856. Local Studies and Archives)

The quest for Jewish rights and education played an important role in the development of the community in the mid-nineteenth century. Built in 1840, the impressive Hebrew School building (which no longer stands) emphasised the social aspirations of the Jewish congregation in Birmingham at the time. It made an important statement that they intended to preserve their culture by educating younger generations.

Helping to establish the school was a Jewish businessman called David Barnett (1800-1854), a refugee from Russia. Barnett lived just off New Street on Bennett’s Hill, and was the owner of the jewellers firm ‘Neustadt and Barnett’. Next door to Barnett was the Birmingham Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne Jones.

As described by Harry Levine, Barnett’s dynamic achievements are a symbol of Jewish integration and education in the nineteenth century: "...he founded the Birmingham Hebrew National School, thirty years in advance of state education. But from the point of view of establishing good relations between Jews and Christians, of demonstrating that Jews were worthy of the equal rights of citizenship which they were fighting to obtain, his greatest claim to our gratitude and admiration today was his public work for the town." (Levine, 11).

David Barnett was the new face of Birmingham Jewry- an energetic, enterprising industrialist, well connected, keen on religious dialogues between faiths, embodying a sense of social justice which extended beyond the boundary of his own community which he passionately sought to promote.

Additional note- in the mid-nineteenth century, many Jewish migrants lived around Hurst Street, often in back to back housing. The National Trust has now opened a museum of 'back to backs' on Hurst Street which illustrates the life of a Jewish family.


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