Since 2005, Julia Pascal, Artistic Director of Pascal Theatre Company, has been researching the journeys and histories of the Sephardi Jews who left Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th century to find refuge in the Balkans and across the Mediterranean basin.
Throughout 2019 and 2020, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Discovering & Documenting England’s Lost Jews explored and documented the hidden histories of the Sephardi Jews, who came to England during the 17th century and who remained to enrich England’s culture. We discovered many diffuse strands and the site we created in July 2020 connects this exciting world map of Sephardi diaspora.
We explored how this group of Jews, who fled the terrors of the Inquisition, struggled to find a legal place in English society and who eventually remained to become British citizens. They arrived with the memory of a Spanish and Portuguese cultural legacy, marking them as quite different from Britain’s later Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe.
At first, these Sephardim in England hid their Jewish identity. Their presence defied King Edward’s 1290 dictum expelling all Jews on pain of death. This royal edict made England the first European country to deport Jews.
We can see the intersection of several languages, cultures and religions in this wide-reaching story of dispersion and exile. Through this project, our aim is to bring communities together, to illuminate a rich history, and to help new generations become aware of overlapping histories, customs and experiences. The project began in January 2019 with a series of free drama workshops at Bevis Marks Synagogue. It has been engaging with a programme of interviews with Sephardim as oral histories to be recorded for future generations as well as educational workshops which have resulted in an educational programme as an introduction for all ages and interests in this legacy.
Listen to the Keeper of the Graveyard as she watches the Novo Cemetery over the centuries.
Written by Julia Pascal
Performed by Gillian Harris
Follow Pascal Theatre Company’s new website One Lost Stone which offersan informative and inspiring artistic journey and multimedia response to the Novo Cemetery and Sephardi histories. This extensive site reveals elements of the secret legacies of Jews coming to England and features dynamic personalities including boxer Daniel Mendoza and the woman believed to be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, Emilia Bassano. One Lost Stone is a team collaboration directed by Thomas Kampe. The website features film, performance, poetry, research, exciting stories and music.
There are many different ways in which you can contribute and participate in our project. Volunteer for training as an oral history interviewer, assist in our research or simply share your story.
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Yaron Lapid’s photo of a pre-workshop talk at Bevis Marks Synagogue, 2019.