THE JEWISH MIGRATION TO ESSEX. H ARDLY anything is so interesting
as a problem which must be explicable yet remains unexplained ; and the curious movement which has set in among the Jews of East London is none the less significant because no one can make out precisely what it signifies. Land in Essex, as every one knows, has almost ceased to command a rent for farming purposes, and a Mr. Varty, of Benfleet, decided to try the experiment of selling his estate of 1,200 acres in lots for building. Benfleet is two stations short of Southend, something over thirty miles from London, and considerably over an hour by train ; with its situation near the flat dyke-walled marshland it seems the last place that any one would wish to live in. However, to Mr. Varty's delighted surprise, as one may imagine, a rush set in among Jews of the poorest class, many of them foreigners, who eagerly bid against one another in purchasing the small lots. The purchasers, according to a special report in the Daily Chronicle, are mostly tailors and bootmakers from the region between the Commercial Road and Mile End Road. But no inquiry can trace any organisation in the movement or any special impulse that should account for it ; it is not even clear what is the object of pur- chasing. Has the word gone out among the community that land in Essex is worth buying ? Is it an organised endeavour to create a boom in this estate ? If so, what reasonable prospect have they of getting rid of their pur- chases? Or is it really that the Hebrews have suddenly sickened of their higgledy-piggledy existence, cramped together in London slums, a whole family in one room, and have with one motion pressed out towards epaee and free air ? But again, if so, where are -the houses to come from? Tailors' and bootmakers' journeymen do not, as a rule, own capital, and houses cannot be put up cheaply under modern regulations, which insist upon brick or stone, with an adequate water-supply and complicated sanitary arrangements. It is one of the strangest things that we have heard of for a long time ; it is so like the Jews, and yet so unlike them. Nothing could show more strongly the solidarity of this scattered race which spreads over Europe like a net, slack and jointless ; but shake any corner of it and the remotest meshes tremble. Here you have the whole of a community existing under no organisation, and hardly recognisable as separate, yet suddenly waking into united action,—not indeed into disciplined movement, but moving with the blind rush of a crowd. So it has been 'in all time with the Jews ; their bonds among them- selves are so strong that they do not need the framework of a distinct society to keep in touch with one another. But if it be really true that this sudden buying represents a revolt of the city-bred against the squalor of their life, the Jews are the last people in the world vyho seemed likely to begin it. In all ages since the dispersion, they have been dwellers in cities, not tillers' of the soil, unless by exception ; and century after century of the Ghetto has lowered their standard of comfort to the lowest com- patible with the usages of the country they lived in. That they of all East-Enders should suddenly make a rush for green fields and clean air is little short of a miracle ; and it is impossible to refrain from connecting the movement —as, indeed, the Daily Chronicle does—with the unrest on the Continent that is turning their faces Zionwards. If we read the signs rightly, they' all mean that the Hebrew community has at last taken thought for its position ; that the attempt to draw the Jews back to Palestine is not so much an attempt to regain the Holy Land as to lift the Hebrew out of the Ghetto by an appeal to his religious and patriotic sentiments ; in short, that a great determination is overspreading the Jewish community, beginning from the top, where there are men whose culture is as great as their power of the purse, that the Jew, who even in his lowest types keeps a certain racial superiority, should be induced to shake off the habits of the Ghetto and purge and live cleanly like a gentleman. If this is so, and if this migration to Benfleet represents really a change of life attempted by a large class of the population, we trust that the richer Jews will see to it that guidance and, if necessary, funds shall not be lacking to give effect to the impulse. If the experiment could be made to answer, the most individualistic people in the world would have set the Socialists an invaluable example, and not the Jews only would profit, but England would be greatly the gainer. For just consider what the change would mean. These people belong, we presume, to the class who do piecework in their own houses, and who, by the natural tendency of trades to group themselves together, are concentrated in one part of London. For one working tailor or bootmaker to go to Benfleet would simply mean the abandonment of his trade,—he has not capital enough to start for himself. But they propose simply to shift a whole colony of these trades to a place where they hope to get a house for the same rent as they have been paying for a room. If there are two or three thousand working tailors and bootmakers at Benfleet it will pay the employers to put themselves in touch with that community. Besides, it stands to common-sense that clothing made in a country village is less likely to acquire infection than what is stitched together in a reeking slum. Already a good many people interest themselves in the conditions under which, for instance, bread is baked ; and not a few would be glad to know that the coat they get from their tailor has not been put together in Whitechapel. Society has everything to gain, in the first place, by a clearance made in any of those human warrens which are chiefly inhabited by the Jewish poor ; and secondly, by having the clothes which it is going to wear made under decently sanitary conditions. For that reason we think that an experiment of this impor• tance should not be left just to take its own course, It may, of course, lead to disastrous failure, but we cannot help feeling some confidence in the Israelites' instinct for what will pay. But if these people are poor people they will,like all poor people, be fleeced unmerci- fully.. To begin with, they are not unlikely to be left to the tender mercies of a building society ; and the speculative builder who puts money into a scheme of this kind will naturally realise that he is running a chance of finding row upon row of houses in a by no means popular neighbour- hood thrown empty on his hands. Therefore he will extort the last penny of rent or interest, and economise to the utter- most in building materials. A Baron Hirsch might finance the whole thing, and probably make a decent return on his money, while doing his people and society a great service. There is also the water company to be reckoned with, and to judge by recent experience the water companies in their dealings with poor neighbourhoods need the restraining hand of the State. The local authorities may be trusted, one would hope, not to put inseparable obstacles in the way. They will, of course, forbid wood or iron houses—for the building trade has to be con- sidered—and will thus double or treble the necessary initial outlay. But with half Essex ready to go out of cultivation, it is reasonable to suppose that any one who has any interest in the county will gladly see this waste land converted into a receptacle for the overflow from over-crowded parts of London. For, be it observed, Ben fleet will not be a suburb ; it will be a distinct community, like that of a North-Country manufacturing town, planted down in the open country. North-Country towns grow up about a mine or a factory, but tailoring has hitherto been one of the parasite trades of a great centre. But we can see no earthly reason why a community of tailors should not thrive in the country, and we can see plenty of reasons why they should thrive. With the habitation would come naturally tillage of small plots producing food for home consumption. The com- plaint of modern life is our centralisation : twenty trades crushing together to one nucleus and each driving up house-rent. The single artisan has no choice but to submit, and live where he can get the work in spite of high rent and bad lodging. But here are the Jews attempting by the wholesale migration of a trade to take trade with them to a spot where house-room is to be had for low rent, and under decent conditions. It seems the act of practical wisdom. Some of them pro- pose to become market-gardeners, having been tillers of the soil in Russia or Germany. But for the most part we hope they are, and will remain, artisans, living, as the Socialist ideal requires, not in tenement rookeries, but in houses and garden-plots of their own. According to the Jewish Chronicle, certain obstacles stand in their way ; the tithes are not redeemed, roads are lacking, and the water company require a guarantee. It would be ten thousand pities if any one of these compara- tively trifling hindrances were allowed to interfere with the development of a scheme which, theoretically at any rate, promises so much. The tithe is certainly a bogey which could be laid with very little manage- ment.