Tags: London

For Richer For Poorer: Weddings Unveiled

05 Jan 2015

For Richer For Poorer: Weddings Unveiled

A new wedding exhibition at the Jewish Museum London from February 13-May 31, 2015

In February 2015, a major new wedding exhibition at the Jewish Museum London will showcase a rich and evocative collection of dresses, photographs, invitations and objects to tell the story of Britain’s Jewish community from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century.

Between the 1880s and 1914, around 150,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in Britain from Eastern Europe, with the majority settling in the East End of London. Part of a larger migration of Jewish people across the world, many were motivated to leave due to persecution suffered in their homeland.

Marriage is a central institution within Judaism and weddings were a hugely important social occasion for this growing community. Despite the poverty that many families experienced, some celebrated weddings with huge receptions, with families often saving for years to pay for them.

Highlights of For Richer, For Poorer: Weddings Unveiled include:

  • A collection of wedding dresses dating from 1905, the 1920s, 1930s and from World War II. The 1905 dress belonged to Sarah Levy, who married an immigrant bootmaker from Poland at New Road synagogue.  The 1925 dress is a fashionable flapper dress with beaded tassels worn by a shorthand typist, the daughter of immigrants.  The dress on display from the 1930s was made by the bride, reflecting the financial hardship of the time.
  • Stories of how Jewish couples met, including the role of the 'shadchan', or matchmaker, who arranged wedding matches within more orthodox communities.  For the first time ever, visitors will be able to view a shadchan’s ledger from the 1940s and letters between the shadchan and his clients.
  • Photographs taken by Boris Bennett, together with his camera. The most sought-after wedding photographer of his day, Boris’s East End studio captured the Hollywood glamour that 1930s Jewish couples wanted their wedding photos to reflect. Crowds would gather outside his studio every Sunday (the traditional Jewish wedding day) and Boris would photograph an average of thirty couples in a single day.
  • Artefacts used in the Jewish wedding ceremony, including a display of ‘ketubots’–  Jewish wedding contracts.  The earliest English ketubah in our collection from 1729 will be displayed.
  • A journey through the music, food and dancing that was at the heart of every celebration.  There’s a table plan for a wedding reception in Piccadilly, a catering agreement by Sterns Caterers for huge amounts of food that continued all day long and printed table cards with lists of music that was played.

Abigail Morris, CEO of the Jewish Museum London, said, “Uncovering the stories behind this wonderful collection of objects has been a fascinating process because each and every item gives us an insight into the traditions, cultural ‘norms’ and social aspirations of this fledgling Jewish community at a critical time in its history. What comes across is that despite the challenges of the time – including poverty, in many cases – putting on a good party for the neighbours was vital, irrespective of the cost involved.

“We are delighted to unveil this inspirational, romantic exhibition and we are excited to use so much from our collection that has remained hidden until now.”


Throughout the exhibition, the Jewish Museum London will host a series of events on the theme of love and marriage. Events include a ‘Secrets of a successful marriage’ workshop with the Jewish Marriage Council, a Jewish dance session for weddings and other celebrations, a tour of historically important wedding locations in London’s East End with Rachel Kolsky and a talk by Maureen Kendler about weddings and relationships in the Torah. The full programme of events can be found at www.jewishmuseum.org.uk/whats-on

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