Alongside the contemporary city, of noise and celebrity, is that other city - of the dead, the unvoiced, the erased. Welcome to the real, unauthorised London: the disappeared, the unapproved, the unvoiced, the mythical and the all but forgotten.
London: City of Diappearances includes an essay by Rachel Lichtenstein The Lost Yiddish Poet of Whitechapel: Avram Stencl.
‘A book full of richness, unexpected enticements, short sharp shocks and breath taking writing.’
'In 1965, Bill Fishman called Stencl, "the last of the dreamers of the ghetto who are slowly disappearing from the East End." Eighteen years later Stencl was found dead on the streets of Whitechapel, dressed like a beggar, penniless, unknown. Bill Fishman said Kaddish at his funeral and still cannot talk about it without tears in his eyes, "that he should end his days like this is such a tragedy, we have forgotten London's foremost Yiddish poet."
I first heard his name in my Grandparents house in Westcliff or Whitechapel-On-Sea as many affectionately named it. Their home was a refuge and meeting place for the artists, poets and radicals of the Jewish East End and Avram Stencl was without doubt their most revered leader. My grandfather and Stencl had been great friends, being Landsleit who met in Whitechapel and shared a mutual passion for the Yiddish language. My father remembers seeing Stencl on many occasions, sitting in their front room, arguing passionately with my grandfather, laughing, playing cards, talking of art, politics and friends. ‘He was like a warm and affectionate Uncle’ said my father, ‘who’d pinch my cheeks vigorously and speak to me at great speed in Yiddish. I only ever understood half of what he told me. He always bought flowers for my mother but I cannot imagined how he afforded them as he looked so poor and dishevelled.’ My grandmother adored him. As soon as he arrived she’d put a plate piled high with steaming hot hamisha food in front of him whilst lamenting at the holes in his jumper and his fingerless gloves. To her it was an honour to have such a great talent in her house and a mitzvah to feed him. As far as my grandfather was concerned Stencl was a genius, a tzaddick who lived his life as a true artist, a mench. He told me ‘for Stencl poetry was the most important thing in his life’ and I thought this was the most romantic thing I had ever heard. The stories I heard inspired me to go and live in Whitechapel. During my time there, through research, talking with family members and others that knew him I began to piece together some details about his life.'