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Chloe Dewe Mathews
Hasidic Holiday: The Annual trip to Aberystwyth
For over 20 years, British orthodox Jews have been holidaying in the Welsh seaside town of Aberystwyth, for two weeks every summer. Each family rents a small house in the empty student accommodation on the hill, and a large yellow and white striped tent is erected on the campus as a temporary synagogue.
They arrive in large groups, followed by huge removals lorries, bringing all their possessions from home, including children’s bikes, cookers and fridges full of food. Around a thousand people make the trip each year and although the majority of families come from North London, there are many others from further afield – from Manchester, continental Europe, Jerusalem and New York.
The Jewish community have been going to Aberystwyth instead of other traditional English seaside towns, like Blackpool or Brighton, as somewhere quieter, less populated and surrounded by rural beauty. Over the years, the community have developed a real affection for the area, with accumulated associations of the annual family holiday.
After a morning of prayer, family groups rattle up the funicular “cliff railway”, push buggies along the pier and spend hours in the playground next to the ruined castle. The visual landscape of Aberystwyth is briefly transformed. Men in long dark coats and brimmed hats wander along the promenade as young families set up on the beach. Fully clothed even when swimming, the sight of these large family units together on the beach rekindles the Victorian notion of traditional British seaside holidays. This is in marked contrast to the rest of the beach goers – dog walkers, hobbling pensioners, single parent families and 20 something students still up from the night before.
Despite the long-standing relationship with the town, there is little contact or exchange between the Jewish community and the local people. On one occasion a visitor enquired at the tourist office, “Why are there were so many people in Welsh national dress on the beach?” on another it was asked, “When do the Arabs arrive?” Perhaps they get relatively less attention than they would elsewhere, as the town is so isolated, with a small tourist influx each year. However, multiculturalism has only come to rural Wales very recently, so although moments of confrontation are rare, they seem almost inevitable.
This year scraps of paper with swastikas on them were found littering the road near the student accommodation and a group of youths in the town centre chanted nazi slogans as a Jewish man walked by.
Chloe Dewe Mathews is a freelance photographer based in London.
After graduating in Fine Art at the Ruskin in Oxford, she worked in the commercial film industry for three years. Both inspired and frustrated she turned to photography, as a more immediate and intimate creative process. Working with different people in their natural environment, enabled her to engage with the world more directly.
She has been published in the Times, the Independent and Dazed and Confused magazine, and exhibited in London, Birmingham, Buenos Aires and Berlin.
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Many thanks… david alan harvey