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Seminar 8 – AG ‘The Sunshine of Manly Sports and Pastimes: Sport and the Integration of Jewish Refugees in Britain’ by David Dee

Dee begins his article by stating that it’s important to highlight the bi-directionality of the process of cultural transfer and that refugee and majority community can be both donors and receivers of certain cultural, social, economic or political values through such cultural transactions.

By stating this, Dee means to speak about the assimilation process Jews faced upon entering Britain and how they settled in their prospective towns and cities. An already established English Jewish population began an ‘anglicisation’ campaign to attempt to accelerate the integration of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. The idea was to transfer to English norms, customs and ideals, stating ‘the task of making the immigrants less foreign.’ Orthodox Jewish authorities had frowned upon activities perceived as distracting from the study of religious texts and restrictions were placed on Jewish organisational life imposed by the Tsarist regimes which meant many Jewish refugees did not have an interest in sports – which the English were shocked by.

To the English, the idea that ‘unsportsmanlike’ spirit enforced that Jews would appear physically, psychologically and culturally ‘alien’ to the areas they were meaning to settle, hindering their assimilation process. Especially in a time where Jews were being accused of overcrowding and raising unemployment levels, increases in rent, etc.

Thus, the schooling system would play a compulsory role in the anglicisation teaching cleanliness and punctuality, as well as ‘proper’ methods of speech (also, British history and geography were taught). Organisations/clubs then formed in the late 1890’s who sought to include physical recreation. They consisted of armed drills, marching and gym training among traditional sports – some clubs like the Jewish Working Lads Brigade were criticised for their militaristic techniques, however it was brushed off due to teaching a physical culture.

The hope from these organisations was that it would prevent young Jews from falling into crime, smoking, gambling and drinking. However, the process was far from easy as they relied on non-financial assistance from the established community and interest among the refugees was generally not there. But, in the following years, the Jewish refugees started to win sporting competitions primarily in Gymnastics and boxing. The Jewish Athletic Association, formed in 1899, promoted sports and created weekly leagues, tournaments, competitions and galas in order to continue the interest.

Dee’s conclusion was from the 1890’s to 1914, a new sporting culture was produced amongst the youngest first and second generations refugees which was not previously in existence for the immigrants or the established Jewish community.

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