Vanished Streets – Unseen Photographs of Lost Jewish London

Shloimy Alman's collection of photographs of Jewish London from the 1970s survive as a unique record of a disappeared world.

Robotkin Butcher Shop on Hessel Street. Photograph by Shloimy Alman

In May of 2019, during an extreme heatwave that hit Israel, a forest fire near the town of Modi’in forced Manchester-born Shloimy Alman and his wife Linda to evacuate their home in Moshav Kfar Daniel where they have lived since making Aliyah in 1978. Fleeing for safety, Shloimy grabbed just three items: passports, family photo albums and 7 boxes of color slides of London’s old Jewish East End that he’d taken in the mid-1970s.

The slides had sat inside Alman’s cupboard for more than 40 years but, during that week, I had visited from London to interview Shloimy and scan these previously unseen images. The images have since been printed and were displayed in an exhibition titled ‘Vanished Streets’, at London’s oldest Ashkenazi synagogue Sandys Row, on Sunday, the 6th of October, 2019 as part of the European Day of Jewish Culture.

I work at Sandys Row as the resident archivist and historian. The president there, Harvey Rifkind, is a great friend of Shloimy’s and told me about this unique collection of images from the 1970s of a world that has now largely disappeared.

Shloimy started taking these pictures in 1977. He was in his early twenties back then, living in Manchester and attending a Jewish Youth Workers’ conference in London. He arranged to meet the Yiddish poet Avraham Stencl who he had heard a great deal about growing up – his father, Moishe, had previously contributed many articles to Stencl’s monthly Yiddish magazine, Loshn un Lebn.

Avraham Stencl, 1977. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

On their first walk, Stencl led Shloimy to Bevis Marks Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in London that was established by Sephardi Jews in the seventeenth century. “He walked very quickly for an old man, I had trouble keeping up with him. As we walked and talked, in Yiddish of course, he pointed out places on the way, where the Jews’ Free School had been, the site of the Jewish Soup Kitchen, Bloom’s restaurant on Whitechapel High St and the many small synagogues, which were still operating.”

Shloimy was amazed by the amount of Jewish institutions, shops, and people still evident. “People kept telling me the Jewish East End was dead but for me, coming from Manchester, it was buzzing with life and activity.”

They passed run-down tenement blocks and stopped briefly at Whitechapel Library, known as ‘the university of the ghetto.’ After their walk, Shloimy went with Stencl to a “Friends of Yiddish” meeting. There were about twenty people there who were all very welcoming. After this first visit Shloimy began attending these meetings regularly whilst visiting his parents-in-law in London. “I wanted to be in that atmosphere that my parents so loved, to hear Yiddish literature being spoken and talked about again. It was most important.”

After his initial walk around Whitechapel with Stencl, Shloimy started exploring by himself, often drifting around the streets coming across things by accident. “Knowing that places like Commercial Road were important, I’d wander along and see a Jewish shop name and photograph it.”

He spent days recording Jewish life, from shuls to delis, shops, market stalls, and traders. He recorded the textile-trimming merchants. He recorded kosher poulterers on Hessel Street. “Shop after shop, stalls with chickens plucked and hanging from a barrow, they were all surviving, all doing business, it was still a rich Jewish landscape.”

Kosher chickens. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

He took photographs of kosher wine merchants, the Grand Palais Yiddish Theatre and the Kosher Luncheon Club. He took slides of the Jewish bakeries – Free Co., Cohen’s, Kossoff’s, Grodzinski’s and bagel shops in East London. “They were all friendly, loved me coming in and chatting in Yiddish and taking a picture.”

Bakery shop windows. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

He went into the Soup Kitchen on Brune Street, which was sending out pre-packed food to elderly Jews living in the area. On Brick Lane, he photographed Jewish booksellers, newsagents, textile merchants. “All these places existed, everything the community needed – it told me how large the community still was.”

Textile traders. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

On Cheshire Street he saw the work of Jewish cabinet makers outside their workshops and during one visit he managed to get inside the Cheshire Street Synagogue, “which was the most remarkable find, it was a Shabbat and the door was slightly open so I went inside and saw all this beautifully lathed woodwork done by the cabinet makers of the street.”

A stall on Petticoat Lane. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

He photographed the entrance to Black Lion Yard, once known as ‘the Hatton Garden of the East End’ because of all the jewelry shops there, although most of the street and shops had been demolished by then. He took pictures of the Whitechapel Waste, of the market stalls and street life, of Stencl selling his magazine to an alter bubby (old grandmother), the London Hospital, the nearby Brady Street dwellings. He explored the back streets, visited little shops, tobacconists, market stalls and Jewish delis. “Roggs was my favorite, he’d always be in that old vest, sticking his great hairy arms into a barrel of cucumbers he pickled himself.”

Roggs on Canon Street. Photograph by Shloimy Alman

He photographed the window of the room on Tyne Street where “Sholem Aleichem stayed on his way to America from Odessa.” Most of the time Shloimy walked alone but sometimes Stencl would join him.

A butcher on Hessel Street. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

Shloimy fell in love with the area and documented what he saw. He said, “I am not a photographer, I make no claim. The reason that I started this is I wanted to be able to show my children about Jewish life in England before I immigrated to Israel. It was obvious to me that what I was looking at was soon to vanish. It might be because I was an outsider that I saw this so acutely or because I had already witnessed this disappearance of Jewish life in Manchester. For an intense period of time, I photographed what I considered important landmarks and eating places of Jewish London.”

His photographs capture the era absolutely and survive as a unique record of a disappeared world.

A catalog of the exhibition photos can be ordered direct from Sandys Row Synagogue here.

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.


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Exploring the Mysteries of Jewish Cuisine

The Jewish people have wandered the face of the globe, picking up various culinary traditions, rendering “Jewish food” into a wide and somewhat undefinable genre of cooking.

Throughout history and under different circumstances, the Jewish people have journeyed across the world, bringing with them their rich cultural heritage and traditions to their new destinations. When arriving and settling in a new place, Jews, influenced by the world around them, would adopt local customs, something that is strongly reflected in the different food cultures that developed in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions.

The breadth of Jewish cooking spans as wide and as far as Jews have traveled. The culture of food in different Jewish communities often reflected the social and economic status of the Jews in that particular part of the world at a specific point in time. Many classic Jewish foods also reflect Kashrut, the laws that pertain to dietary restrictions, and other Jewish laws that apply to issues of food and cooking in general. The global reach of the Jewish people means that Jewish food has no perfect definition, but rather a wide range of influences that left their mark and guided the Jewish kitchen to become what it is today.

Modern Jewish cuisine has evolved and grown over time but those classic dishes, the ones that smell and taste of home, draw people back to their roots no matter where those roots were planted. From the shtetls of Poland and Hungary to bustling metropolises in Egypt and Morocco, Jewish food has evolved and diversified all the while holding strong to Jewish tradition, creating a historical connection between the journeys of Jewish people and the food that they eat.

Interestingly enough, while Mizrahi and Yemenite foods are extremely popular in mainstream Jewish cooking today, especially in Israel, research on the subject yielded few written recipes or cookbooks from Jewish communities in the Middle East and the Orient. Instead, the National Library of Israel collections yielded such fascinating items such as a small cookbook from Poland that is filled with recipes for Middle Eastern cooking written in Yiddish.

“Dei Yiddishe Kuch,” a small and inconspicuous cookbook with a green and brown spotted cover written by B. Shafran was recently rediscovered in the collections of the National Library of Israel and serves as an interesting example of the global reach of Jewish food. Printed in Warsaw in 1930, the cover page promises recipes from a wide range of countries including but not limited to Poland, Russia, Romania, Germany, Alsace, Morocco, Tunisia, and the USA – and it delivers.

“Dei Yiddishe Kuch,” published in Warsaw, 1930. From the National Library of Israel collection.

A quick flip through the yellowing pages reveals Eastern European recipes for gefilte fish and kugel printed alongside North African dishes like couscous and shakshuka. While for some this may seem like a stretch, this unassuming book serves as a fascinating reflection on just how connected the Jewish communities were across the world through the language of food. A Jew living in a small village in Poland could create an inherently Mizrahi dinner from a cookbook written in his or her native Yiddish all before the age of digital technology and communication. The universal language of food spread across borders and oceans allowing for the creation of that seamlessly blended flavor that is a trademark of the Jewish kitchen.

A page from “Dei Yiddishe Kuch” featuring a recipe for Shakshuka written in Yiddish. From the National Library of Israel collection.

While Jewish cooking is hard to define, there is beauty in the hodgepodge of cuisines that makes up Jewish culinary tradition. It reflects the history and tribulations experienced by the Jewish people and its constant state of transformation are what keeps Jewish food so endlessly fascinating.

In honor of the Jewish New Year, a time spent dedicated to tradition, renewal, and family, the National Library of Israel seeks to bring some of the oldest and most interesting recipes from the Library collections out of the archives and back to your dinner table. Home to the intellectual and cultural treasures of Israel and the Jewish people, the National Library of Israel works to preserve and make these treasures available to diverse audiences in Israel and across the globe. A variety of items now preserved in the National Library collections mirror the journeys taken by Jewish people and the rich and diverse food culture that was developed and maintained over the centuries.

Shakshuka (Cracked eggs) Recipe from Dei Yiddishe Kuch:

Fry a clove of garlic in a bit of oil. Add a half-pound tomatoes chopped into small pieces. Leave it cooking for a 1/4 hour. Crack four eggs whole and ‘mix’ with the tomatoes for so long until it’s done.


Explore the Mysteries of Jewish Cuisine:

The Book That Taught Europeans How to Cook in Palestine

The Strange Connection Between a Medieval Shopping List and a Divorce Contract

The Simple Grain That Saved the State of Israel from Starvation


The Simple Grain That Saved the State of Israel from Starvation

During the period of austerity which accompanied the early years of the State of Israel, the Hadassah organization fought to allow for the import of Bulgur to Israel from the United States.

In 1948, while the fledgling state of Israel was facing a period of austerity and found itself carefully distributing rations, the United States of America was experiencing a surplus of agricultural goods. Among these copious amounts of excess food was a large quantity of the simple cereal grain known as Bulgur.

While Bulgur has only become globally popular in recent years, the grain finds its origins in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Bulgur was long considered a poor man’s food among Middle Eastern Jews as it was often served to impoverished Jewish communities in Yemen and Kurdistan, paired with other ingredients to round out the meal.

In an attempt to resolve the agricultural surplus problem without letting the food go to waste, the US government passed a law that would allow for excess food products to be made available to those in need across the globe through registered volunteer agencies. Crates of food would be made available for the needy – all the agencies had to do was cover the cost of shipping.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America founded by Henrietta Szold, recognized that this new legislation presented a unique opportunity to help the fledgling State of Israel in its time of need. Hadassah was originally founded in order to raise funds for medical care in Israel. In order to make the move over to shipping surplus food, they needed to become a registered voluntary agency and receive approval from the United States State Department – a process that proved to be rather difficult.

Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah. From the Schwadron Portrait Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel.

In his memoir, “Life’s Voyage: Dedicated to Making a Difference”, Maurice D. Atkin who served as Executive Officer and Agriculture Advisor of the Israeli Mission (later, the Israeli Embassy) to the United States, reflects on the action taken by Hadassah to become a Registered Voluntary Agency so they could ensure that parts of the food surplus would be sent to Israel.

“The office of American Voluntary Foreign Aid within the State’s Economic Cooperation Administration set up every obstacle it could think of to hinder if not block the process…After several months and many meetings, Hadassah was approved as a Registered Voluntary Agency entitled to receive surplus commodities for relief distribution abroad.”

After receiving their approval, between 1951 and 1953, Hadassah worked to ship over $20 million worth of surplus food to Israel with similar numbers arriving in subsequent years. With the help of the Jewish Agency who agreed to cover the shipping costs, Hadassah distributed food to absorption centers, welfare agencies, schools and hospitals both Jewish and Arab throughout the country.

US Senator Hubert Humphrey, recalls Atkin, was helpful in ensuring the inclusion of Bulgur in the surplus food program. Humphrey, who would later serve as Vice President, made a statement regarding the par-boiled cracked wheat on the floor of the Senate and, interestingly enough, when the statement was entered into the congressional record, the word was written in Hebrew making it the first instance that the Hebrew language was included in the written congressional record.

The cover of the cookbook “Yemenite and Oriental Food” by Naomi and Shimon Tzabar. From the National Library of Israel collection.

Bulgur has remained a popular food item in Israel and with the rise of healthy eating movements across the western world, the grain has been incorporated into diets in many different countries and cultures. The grain has proven to be very versatile, taking center stage in dishes from simple salads to savory dishes that are cooked for many hours.

One of the first cookbooks published on Jewish food traditions stemming from Middle Eastern traditions, “Yemenite and Mizrahi Foods,” a copy of which is now kept in the National Library of Israel, includes an entire section dedicated to the wonder that is bulgur – or as it is called in the book, Rifot. Feel free to try it and let us know how it turns out!

Recipe for Haris from the cookbook “Yemenite and Oriental Food” by Naomi and Shimon Tzabar. From the National Library of Israel collection.


2 cups of Rifot (Bulgur)

500 grams of beef bones

Whole Onion

Whole Tomato

Hawaij (spice mix)


Clean and rinse the bulgur. Boil half a pot of water. After the water boils, add the bones, the onion, the hawaij and the salt. Stir and add the tomato and the bulger. Cover the pot and move it to a small flame to cook overnight. Serve hot.

Bonus recipe! 

Meat and Beans:

400 gram of meat (lamb or beef) sliced

200 gram dry white beans

3 tablespoons margarine

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Chopped onions


Black Pepper

Cook the beans in salt water for 30 minutes. Stop cooking them and pour out the water. Sauté the meat in the margarine until lightly browned. Add the onion and sauté for 5minutes until everything is well browned. Add the beans, tomato paste, salt, pepper and water. Cover the pot and cook on a medium flame until the meat and the beans are completely softened.


Discover a world of Jewish cooking:

Exploring the Mysteries of Jewish Cuisine

The Book That Taught Europeans How to Cook in Palestine

The Strange Connection Between a Medieval Shopping List and a Divorce Contract


The Strange Connection Between a Medieval Shopping List and a Divorce Contract

 A shopping list found among the treasures of the Cairo Genizah was scrawled on the back of a rather important document.

It happens to us all about once a week – the refrigerator and cabinets are suddenly bare and we need to go to the grocery store to restock. Most of us don’t have a special place to write a shopping list – a pad or a notebook dedicated to such mundane things. Typically, we will improvise, grabbing the closest piece of scrap paper to use for scribbling down a basic list of groceries to get us through the week.

It’s easy to forget that people have struggled with the same mundane parts of life as we do for thousands of years – things like grocery shopping and list-making – and like us, they improvised, finding creative solutions to everyday annoyances. In fact, the Cairo Genizah held one extreme example where a random, unremarkable shopping list was actually scrawled on the back of a torn-up divorce agreement from the Middle Ages.

The Ben Ezra Synagogue, originally built over a thousand years ago in Fustat, the heart of ancient Cairo had a special room which held a Genizah. The Genizah was a place where, per Jewish tradition, documents containing holy Jewish texts were deposited instead of simply throwing them in the trash. Over time, people began depositing any document written in Hebrew lettering, including items like marriage contracts, divorce papers, court documents, and private letters. Materials were deposited in this room from the time the synagogue opened through the 19th century. When it was rediscovered, the incredible collection of papers written in a variety of languages including Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic served as documentation of a thousand-year history of Jewish culture and society in the Middle East.

Among the treasures found inside the Genizah is what appeared at first glance to be a simple shopping list scrawled on a scrap of paper that is now held by the Cambridge University Library and is digitally preserved in the National Library of Israel collection. The list seemed perfectly ordinary, filled with everyday purchases that would be made in the local market. It was relatively detailed as each entry in the list included specific weights of each good to be purchased, using the dirham as the unit of measure. The dirham, equivalent to approximately 3.125 grams, is frequently mentioned in Jewish law as it was used to measure such things as the weight of a quantity of silver promised in a marriage contract.

A shopping list from the Cairo Genizah, Cambridge University Library.

This particular list included ordinary ingredients like sumac and tahini, as well as olive and sesame oil. When researchers turned the list over however, it became far less commonplace when they realized the list was written on the back of a fragment from a torn-up Get (Jewish divorce contract).

Talk about grabbing a piece of scrap paper.

As it turns out, this was not as unusual as it sounds. In accordance with Jewish law, when a marriage ends in divorce, the Get (divorce agreement), is torn to pieces so it cannot be used again. Historically, these agreements were written on the front side of large pieces of paper and the backs were left blank. Once the contract had served its purpose and was no longer necessary, the torn pieces were simply used for scrap paper – recycling ahead of its time. This might lend explanation as to why something so trivial as a shopping list would be scrawled on the back of a divorce contract.

The back of the shopping list from the Cairo Genizah with the text from a divorce contract, Cambridge University Library.

The shopping lists found in the Cairo Genizah tend to be written in order of what was required for a specific recipe. This means that sometimes lists include the same product more than once but with different weights for each entry, as the product was needed for more than one recipe. For example, on this list, sesame oil is included twice as the shopper expected to purchase the amounts needed for two different dishes. The list read as follows:

Sumac 3/8 (dirham)

Tahini ¼

Olive and Sesame Oil ¾

Salt ¼

Sesame Oil 1 5/8

Wood for Fuel 1/4

Serving suggestion: For anyone wishing to recreate a recipe based on this list, it seems the best option would be to prepare a fresh batch of tahini. We recommend mixing raw tahini paste with some sumac and water. Add some sesame oil and salt to taste.


Discover a world of Jewish cooking:

Exploring the Mysteries of Jewish Cuisine

The Book That Taught Europeans How to Cook in Palestine

The Simple Grain That Saved the State of Israel from Starvation