Writer and artist Rachel Lichtenstein’s entree into historical preservation was accidental. In the mid-1990s, she attended an art event in a former synagogue in London’s now heavily Bangladeshi East End, and was horrified to see performance artists tearing up old records of the long-lost congregation. She intervened, and the artists stopped. Still, she was struck by the precariousness of the neighborhood’s connection to its past.
Lichtenstein then embarked on what would become a decade-long effort to collect not just photographs and other artifacts, but also the memories of past and present residents of an area in flux. The fruits of her labor have now been assembled in a book, On Brick Lane, published by Hamish Hamilton.
Recently, Lichtenstein gave Nextbook’s Hugh Levinson a tour of bustling Brick Lane, making stops along the way to point out remnants of the once thriving, now all-but-absent, Jewish community.
Left: Brick Lane near the turn of the century. Right: Local historian Bill Fishman in front of the Fieldgate Street Synagogue and the East London Mosque, 2005.
Synagogue photo: Rachel Lichtenstein.