Born in Whitechapel, in London’s East End, in 1907, Simon Blumenfeld was one of two children whose father, a cap-maker, also worked as a chicken-slaughterer. The young would-be writer left school to work variously as a cap-maker, presser, and as a street-market trader in dress materials sold off the roll. In the evenings he boxed, walked out with friends and political comrades, and wrote stories and plays.
With its deliberately provocative title, Jew Boy was Simon Blumenfeld’s first novel and also his most personal and heartfelt. Published in 1935, it was quickly regarded as the definitive fictionalised account of the militant Jewish East End. The title was too strong for its American publishers, who issued it a year later in the US as The Iron Garden.
He wrote three other novels – Phineas Kahn (1937), Doctor Of The Lost (1938) and They Won’t Let You Live (1939) – and all were well regarded, but it is Jew Boy which brought him to public attention and made his name. He also drew praise for his plays. As well as a drama about the Aldgate-born boxer Daniel Mendoza, Blumenfeld scripted The Battle Of Cable Street, staged at the Edinburgh Festival in 1987, as well as writing in his early life one of the last Yiddish plays to be professionally performed in Europe, The Promised Land, premiered at the Grand Palais in Commercial Road.
When he died in 2005 at the age of 97, he was Britain’s oldest working journalist, having written for Stage magazine for more than forty years. The political and cultural milieu of the East End in which he had grown up – a world of theatres, public libraries, debating clubs, soapbox oratory and political demonstrations and confrontations with Mosley’s fascists – never left him, and he retained his political ideals to the end.
COPYRIGHT DEREK SOLOMONS