The following book review was written by Dick Eastman:
Jewish Lives: Britain 1750 - 1950
by Melody Amsel-Arieli
published by Pen & Sword Family History
Jewish Lives: Britain 1750 - 1950 provides excellent articles detailing the lives of ten Jewish immigrants to Great Britain. It provides a wealth of information about each of these immigrants and their families. Where possible, information about the immigrants and the environment in which they lived in "the old country" is provided, along with information about their lives in Great Britain after immigration. As a result, the book provides a lot of background information of interest to many Jewish genealogists.
This book is not a tutorial on "how to research Jewish genealogy." However, it does provide examples of where and how information was found for each of the ten immigrants. It becomes a great tutorial by use of example. Author Melody Amsel-Arieli obviously is an expert genealogist. She researched both commonly-available and obscure records alike. At the end of each chapter, she provides an extensive bibliography of the records searched, including many documents from each immigrant's home country. I found the bibliographies to be almost as interesting as the stories as the bibliographies list many resources that other genealogists may not know about.
The immigrants selected for this study came from Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, and a number of Eastern European countries. All suffered almost unimaginable hardship in order to provide a better life for themselves and their families. Anyone who wishes to research their own Jewish ancestry will learn much from this book, especially if their ancestors eventually made their way to Great Britain.
Living conditions were often harsh in the old country and often were still difficult in the newly-adopted country. For instance, Ze've Yitzhak Dovid HaLevi escaped military conscription in Pinczow, Poland, whereupon reaching 18 years of age, all men were forced to serve on active duty in the Polish army for twenty years, followed by an additional five years in the reserves. HaLevi escaped conscription by moving to Great Britain where he married and raised nine sons. He and his family frequently moved to better and better neighborhoods as his personal fortune apparently improved. He eventually became a real estate developer and died wealthy.
Other immigrants detailed in this book did not achieve financial success, although all apparently did lead better lives than what they would have endured had they remained in their home countries.
Not all stories feature a “lived happily ever after” ending. For instance, Yekusiel 'Ksiel' Pelikan left Krakow, Austro-Hungarian Empire, in order to escape a life of extreme poverty. Author Amsel-Arieli quotes the writings of Scottish missionaries who traveled through Krakow at the time 'Ksiel' Pelikan lived there as they described the Jews of Krakow:
“They follow all trades, and yet have no bread to eat. They are so poor that, out of all the Jews in the republic, there are not 10,000 who could afford to pay one shilling for a Hebrew Bible. Twelve families are often lodged in one room in winter, the floor being chalked out into so many portions, and a whole family huddled together in each, the children generally remaining in bed to keep themselves warm, as they have no clothes to defend them from the cold...”Melody Amsel-Arieli then goes on to describe in detail Yekusiel 'Ksiel' Pelikan's escape from the squalor of Krakow in about 1881 and his new life in England. He married three times, one wife succumbing to cholera and another to cancer. Then an article in Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper in 1898 reveals the following:
Alexander Pelican … was summoned … to police-court … for deserting his wife, who claimed maintenance in consequence. [Pelican] was nearly 63 years old, but the wife several years younger. They had, however, been married scarcely twelve months. There had been several quarrels … until during the absence of the wife one day the husband left, removing the household goods except … a bed, which was her property before the marriage … the husband refused to live again with the woman and offered five [pounds] a week [for her maintenace]. The wife said it was not enough, and alleged that her husband had allowed her 25 [pounds] a week for housekeeping money; had also paid the rent, and brought in every Saturday night three pints of whiskey and some soda water for the weekly allowance. His income, therefore, was over 40 [pounds] a week...Alexander Pelican lived for another thirteen years, apparently without a wife.
Melody Amsel-Arieli successfully wove research of historical records with gripping descriptions of life in the neighborhoods in which each immigrant lived. Even if your ancestor is not listed in this book, you can learn much about the lives of people who lived in the neighborhoods described in Great Britain and in "the old countries."
The reader will learn more than just the simple dates and places of birth, marriage, death, and a list of children. Instead, anyone fortunate enough to read this book will learn much about history, people, and the lifestyles of the day.
I would suggest that anyone hoping to learn about Jewish ancestry should read this book. Those with Jewish heritage in Great Britain will obviously benefit the most, but anyone researching Jewish ancestry on the continent of Europe will also learn much about Jewish life in those countries.
Jewish Lives: Britain 1750 - 1950 provides a valuable history lesson for all of us.
This excellent book is available from the publisher's web site at http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Jewish-Lives/p/3867/ as well as from Amazon at http://goo.gl/D294zy and from many other book stores.