The first Jewish Rolls’ of Honour appeared in the UK after the Boer War. Following the First and Second World Wars there were hundreds of Rolls of Honour in Jewish community halls, synagogues and schools. The contribution of Anglo-Jewry to the freedom and security of the UK was clear, but like that of all minorities it could quickly be forgotten. A visible presence outside of the community provided an open demonstration of loyalty and an opportunity for British Jews to take pride in their military activities. Through a combination of events and educational activities, AJEX seeks to keep Remembrance alive.
The Annual Ceremony & Remembrance Parade
The AJEX Annual Ceremony & Parade at the Cenotaph became an annual event from the 1930’s onwards. While AJEX members march alongside UK veterans at the national Remembrance parade (RBL) on Whitehall, there is a separate annual Jewish ceremony of Remembrance on the following Sunday in November. The AJEX annual parade continues to be a major event in the Jewish calendar. Whitehall is closed in recognition of the sacrifices made by Jews in the service of the crown. The service includes an address by the Chief Rabbi and is followed by wreath laying and prayers and military music. The continuation of the AJEX Annual Ceremony & Remembrance Parade at the Cenotaph is essential to remind both Jews and non-Jews as to the vital role played by our community in British life.
The National Memorial Arboretum
In June each year as part of Veterans week AJEX holds a memorial service at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Staffordshire. The service is held at the AJEX memorial Garden which was one of the first memorials erected at the site. The service is open for anyone to attend. In previous years it has been well attended school children both locally and nationally. Following the service there is an opportunity to visit other memorial at the site including the Armed Forces memorial that contains the names of those who have fallen since the end of WW2 and therefore includes Jewish names.
The Jewish Military Museum (JMM)
The Jewish Military Museum was formed after large amounts of military artefacts and records started being given to AJEX. As veterans passed on their families were keen that certain belongings were not discarded, especially as they helped preserve a record of Jewish service in the UK. The JMM is a distinct body to AJEX, but nonetheless still a part of it. It has artefacts, records and examples of personal testimony from the First World War through to today. It includes the AJEX records as well as general Jewish military information. The JMM is currently housed at the Jewish Museum in Camden with a number of items from its collection on display. Plans to develop the JMM collection for greater educational usage are currently being explored. In the meantime it continues to collect artefacts and other items of Jewish military life. Members of AJEX get two for one entrance into the Jewish Museum - https://jewishmuseum.org.uk
The Record of Honour
Records of Honour are mainly associated with large international conflicts such as the First and Second World War, and mostly with only those who make the final sacrifice. However, from 1914 the Jewish military chaplaincy kept a record of all those Jews that have served in the military. That responsibility has been taken over by AJEX since the Second World War. The Jewish Record of Honour is an opportunity to preserve the name of all those Jewish men and women that have served with the British Armed Forces and made the community proud. For further information please email the office using the ‘Contact’ which can be found under the About menu.
How we started – The History of AJEX
Jews have served in the British Armed Forces for three centuries. It was during the latter half of the eighteenth century and especially during the Boer War that their numbers first became recorded and supported through the appointment of a part-time England based military Rabbi. The practice of having a Chanukah service that provided an annual opportunity to bring Jewish servicemen together can be traced from the 1890’s. The events of the First World War led to the participation of in excess of 50,000 Jewish men and women in the armed services from across the UK, Empire and Commonwealth. They celebrated festivals together (often next to the battlefield) and many attended regular services led by civilian or military Jewish religious leaders.
Following the war ex-service clubs became popular as a place for those with similar experiences to meet. On 24th January 1920 the Jewish Chronicle reported on the Federation of Discharged Soldiers, Jewish Branch having a meeting at the Jewish Trades Union Institute in Leeds. At the Armistice events in 1921 a group of men of the Judeans laid a wreath at the cenotaph. This small but important gesture became very important to the Jewish community, a physical statement that they had made their contribution. By 1925 the ex-servicemen were having an annual dinner, and by Jan 1926 the Jewish Chronicle reported a parade of 250 men of the Judean Battalions and the Menorah Club founded by Jewish ex-soldiers. In December 1926 the annual Chanukah service was revived at Bayswater Synagogue and included a visit to the Cenotaph. In 1929 international events including riots in Palestine, resulting in Jewish deaths alongside a rise in Anti-Semitism and fascism in parts of Europe began to raise concerns among Jewish veterans. A meeting was held in the East End of London and those who attended decided to form the Jewish Ex-servicemen’s Legion, there were 200 members straight away. News spread around the country and more and more men signed up. It was agreed that in the November (1929) they would hold a specifically Jewish veterans event at the Dukes Place Synagogue, East London. With a growth in membership, including contact with currently serving Jewish servicemen the Jewish ex-servicemen‘s Legion decided to organise its first annual Remembrance Parade and Service on 8 th November 1930 at Horse Guards Parade. The Legion began to meet regularly and elected its own Rabbi, Louis Rabinowitz as the first honorary Chaplain. To avoid any confusion with the British Legion (now the Royal British Legion) the organisation became the Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen and women in 1936. The aims were simple: to continue Remembrance of the Jewish contribution to the military; to combat anti-Semitism through education; and to provide welfare for Jewish veterans and their families.
Following the Second War and an estimated service of over 70,000 Jews to the British Armed Forces the work of AJEX continued in earnest. The events of the Holocaust and Jewish refugees from Europe before and after the war against Nazism meant the need to provide support to the veterans community and ensure a robust British counter to anti-Semitism was even more important. Active education programmes were launched, alongside, welfare networks and annual activities such as the Remembrance service and parade. All this work continues today.