Last week I had a great trip to the Jewish Museum in London to look through some of their archives on Jewish youth clubs. Amongst the pictures and documents was a couple of oral history interviews with people involved with Jewish clubs which were really useful. Instead of relying solely on information produced by club leaders and other official documents, these oral history records add the opinions of the members themselves. Certainly, these opinions were gathered many years after the events and are guided by the questions asked but it doesn’t stop them being useful. The museum had histories from members of three different clubs which added a great deal to the information I already had on the clubs and their religious practices.
Listening to the tapes and reading the transcripts made me think about how much bias we all put into research. It was pretty clear that the interviewers weren’t particularly interested in the religious side and didn’t really expect to find much in the way of religious evidence. In one of the tapes interviewing a former member of the Oxford and St Georges Club the interviewee mentioned that there was always a strong element of religion in the club. The interviewer then stated that it was probably important to do so to encourage the parents to send their children. A quick look at the Oxford and St Georges Club certainly disputes that. The club founder, Basil Henriques, was a deeply religious man who believed that all club work should be infused with a ‘Jewish spirit’. His books and archives certainly disagree with the interviewer and in fact, so did the interviewee. His response to the question was ‘I think in that respect … Henriques and his wife, who was a very talented woman, were very sincere. They did want this religious element. They thought it played a very important part in the development of people.’