story icon The Jewish Lads' Brigade

Contributed by: Jewish Museum, London

The Jewish Lads' Brigade was inaugurated at the Jews' Free School, Bell Lane, in the East End of London on 16 February 1895. The earliest recruits were drawn from JFS, the Norwood Orphanage and local elementary schools, known as Board Schools, which had been set up under the Education Act of 1870.

Its founder was Colonel Albert E W Goldsmid.

"The object of the JLB in the beginning was to help boys from tremendous poverty in the East End. It was an opening for Jewish boys who had no alternatives. It gave them something to belong to, something to do, and it taught them how to behave. They had a white haversack, belts and hats, and they used to have parades and drills as well as games."

The Jewish Lads' Brigade aimed to anglicise the children of Yiddish-speaking East European immigrants. The middle-class, Anglo-Jewish gentlemen who ran the Brigade in its early days sought to turn these foreign-born, working-class Jewish youth into respectable English citizens - "Englishmen of the Mosaic persuasion".

The Brigade encouraged the virtues of self-restraint, respect for authority, punctuality and self-help. It also provided a disciplined outlet for the boys' energies, by means of recreation and training for their approaching manhood.

"The object was to keep us off the streets... all under one roof... and they looked after us there."

Through the JLB, the established Jewish community expressed both its faith in Britain as a tolerant society and its gratitude for political emancipation. At a deeper level, the setting up the JLB was a defensive response to anti-immigrant prejudice and a weapon with which to fight anti-Semitism.

The JLB declined in popularity in the inter-war period as a result of public desire for peace and revulsion against 'militarism'. Membership in the JLB halved from a peak of 4,000 in 1910 to a low of 2,000 in 1925.

"Most of the senior Brigade members went into Civil Defence in 1939. I joined the Home Guard, and when they saw I was an expert in musketry firing I was immediately promoted to Sergeant."

downloads (JML) 965.12
Jewish Lads' Brigade

Catalogue Reference:
(JML) 965.12

"The ordinary boys in the Brigade units were more confident and able to cope with service in the war. They knew their drill and were able to bypass a great deal of basic training because of the training they got in the Brigade. As a result, they did very well in their units."

During the Second World War, approximately 60,000 Jewish men and women out of an Anglo-Jewish community estimated at 400,000 undertook military service. At least 2,010 of them lost their lives in the struggle against Hitler. No separate figures exist for the JLB contribution to the national effort during the Second World War, but there is ample evidence that many ex-JLB lads saw rapid promotion through the ranks and some outstanding acts of bravery are recorded.

In the 1970s, the gradual trend towards mixed companies transformed 'The Jewish Lads' Brigade incorporating the Jewish Girls' Brigade' into the combined 'Jewish Lads' and Girls' Brigade'.

Taken from interviews compiled by the Jewish Museum London for the temporary exhibition: Living Up West: Jewish Life in London's West End, first shown in 1994. It is also available as a touring exhibition, and also an accompanying 332-page book written by Gerry Black. The full interviews and transcripts are available for consultation in the Oral History archive at the Jewish Museum, London. To find out more about the Jewish Museum, London visit

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