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The Yom Kippur Ball

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The Yom Kippur Ball

Post by Karen on Mon 13 Sep 2010 - 21:19

II. LONDON AND NEW YORK
BEGINNINGS: LONDON, ENGLAND, 1888

The mass immigration from Eastern Europe produced a Jewish proletariat in England, with its centre in London. By the 1880's, London's East End had become an important socialist and trade union centre, with anarchists particularly active in the forming of Jewish unions. In 1885 a group of social democrats and anarchists founded a Yiddish-language newspaper, the Arbayter Fraynd [Workers' Friend]. It soon became a seat of anarchist activity, and was widely read in England, as well as in America. The editor of the Arbeyter Fraynd was Philip Krantz until 1890, when Saul Yanovsky took over. In the same year, a club was started on Berner Street to be used for meetings, including antireligious lectures and discussions, and it soon took over the Arbayter Fraynd. After a powerful struggle between various left-wing factions in 1891, the newspaper was fully in anarchist hands. The Arbayter Fraynd represented the Jewish anarchists' most important organ of antireligious propaganda, in particular around the major Jewish holidays.

In 1888, the Arbayter Fraynd promoted the first ever Yom Kippur ball. The organizers were local anarchists, and the event was apparently initiated by the newspaper's editor, Philip Krantz. Three weeks before Yom Kippur, the following announcement appeared in the Arbayter Fraynd:

We hereby notify all our friends that we are preparing a dinner to held in our club. This will take place in honour of the great festival of the slaughter of the fowl, Yom Kippur, when all asses and hypocrites beat their breast, repent of the sins they have committed, and fast. For one shilling you can receive a good dinner and spend a most enjoyable day in fine company. The dinner will be followed by singing and dancing. There will also be a number of brief lectures and recitations...We will post bills for those who, sitting in the synagogues and sneaking out now and then for a smoke and a bite to eat, will not read this notice.

The event faced opposition from unidentified sources; the week following the announcement, the Arbayter Fraynd reported that opponents of the ball broke into the Berner Street club on the day the notice had appeared. In response, anarchists distributed leaflets with the heading, "Down with superstition! Long live the spirit of freedom!" on the day before Yom Kippur.

The ball took place from Yom Kippur evening until 2:00 A.M. the next day. On Kol Nidre night, a noisy crowd gathered outside of the hall and attempted, unsuccessfully, to disrupt the proceedings. By early Yom Kippur morning, despite the angry mob outside, the hall was packed with people, and police were stationed in the street. Speeches against religion were held, followed by discussion, joyous singing, and recitations.

On Yom Kippur afternoon tables with refreshments were set up. Because of the unexpectedly high attendance the food was soon depleted and three individuals, including Philip Krantz himself, had to leave the hall and obtain more food from a nearby restaurant and make their way back through a furious crowd. After the meal, speeches attacking religion were held, followed by discussion, further recitations and more singing. Later that evening, the police arrived to restore order around the club. Several participants in the event were arrested. Despite disruptions, the Arbayter Fraynd reported, "Thus the day, a day which can truly be called historic, passed in a festive manner."

The first Yom Kippur ball ended on a victorious note. Attendance at the event had far surpassed the organizers' expectations, and the movement had gained support among the masses. The press coverage had, on the whole, been supportive, backing the organizers' right to hold the event. The ball does not appear to have faced any organized opposition from the community, and the Anglo-Jewish weekly, the Jewish Chronicle, remained silent. Haphazard attempts to disrupt the gathering had failed. In the first round, anarchism had won, religion had lost.

Source: This article was published in:

Margolis, Rebecca E. (2001). A Tempest in Three Teapots: Yom Kippur balls in London, New York, and Montreal. Canadian Jewish Studies, 9, 38-84

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Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"
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