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Henry Posner

Henry Posner was a well-known senior member of the OJC who spoke vividly and entertainingly about his memories of Oxford past at the Oxford Jewish Memory Day in 2007. Sadly he passed away a few months after giving this account of his life.

Henry Posner
Tell us about your family's Jewish story and how they came to be in Oxford?

Our house in East London got bombed and we moved to Oxford because my sister's fiance's parents had already moved to the area and my father decided that London was not the place, he'd had enough. I was then 14, but in actual fact I'd been evacuated earlier, just before the war started, to another place in Oxfordshire, near Whitby, but when there was no bombing I got fed up of living in a place where there was no sanitation and only oil lamps and the smell of bacon and eggs in the morning on a paraffin stove. So I went back to London. Then when the bombing started I was re-evacuated and then when my parents left London for Oxford I came to join them; but there wasn't room where they were staying, but there was a room at the stationmaster's house and I had a room there until such time as they found a house.
What does being Jewish mean to you?

It means that I'm part of a group of people and I share in their beliefs; I feel comfortable with Jewish people and at the same time I feel comfortable with other groups of people who behave in a reasonable fashion. I've met all sorts of other people but I like Jewish people -- the way we have rules and regulations; for example, the first thing you learn at Cheder is the prayer for washing your hands and to me that is the first thing about being Jewish -- it is a way of life, a way of behaving and that's what keeps me very involved. I'm not a very Orthodox person but there are just some things that I like to do; a lot of other things I'm very happy to do with my gentile friends. Being Jewish to me, living in the Oxford setting is probably very different to if I was living somewhere else. I could not live in a Golder's Green area or Manchester area. Being Jewish to me is really encapsulated in more than anything else in being a Jew in Oxford; that is what it really is.
What do you feel is distinctive about the Oxford Jewish community?

It is the only community in Britain where there is a Masorti or Liberal service going on in one part of the building and an Orthodox one in the other; and if one group is finished before the other they wait and we have Kiddush together. We all mix and we all have respect for each other's feelings, which in many places wouldn't be the case and so often the Orthodox wouldn't be seen dead in a place where the Reform are. That doesn't happen here in Oxford. No one will turn their back on anyone else because of the way they deal with their religion, whether they are there twice a year or whether they are there twice a week. It is also very unusual because there are probably a couple of hundred Jews in the academic world who we never see but they do come out of the woodwork for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And the new building has been built so it can accommodate them all -- in the various halls.

There is no other Oxford. Some academics are blinkered but many have a foot in both camps and it is the mixture of people, the m�

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