Brighton & Hove
Marcus Roberts


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World War II

World War II created another interruption in community life. During the War some Jews in Brighton and Hove were evacuated from their homes, though it appears that others evacuees came to Brighton from London. Refugees fleeing Hitler's Europe also found themselves in Brighton and some came from as far away as Shanghai. The presence of the refugees and their need to be looked after, there was a home for refugee children in the 1930s and a Jewish Home for Refugees in Brunswick Terrace, Hove, operated from 1950 to the early 1960s.

The mortality rate among members of the Brighton community, was much greater than in World War I, with 30 fallen servicemen commemorated and half of the victims being from the RAF.

The demise of one of the recorded dead, in World War II, that of Lieut. I Halevy, is particularly tragic. Jacob Halevy, his father, a noted Zionist, patriot and head of Whittingehame College, allowed his only son and child to go to war, even though he was under age to be conscripted, and it was deeply and vehemently against the wishes of his wife. Halevy felt strongly that Jews owed Britain a debt, because of the Balfour Declaration, and that Jews therefore should strongly support Britain in an hour of need. When his son died, this caused a permanent rift between him and his wife, who never forgave him, and they apparently only stayed together, because of their education cause and the desire to avoid the scandal of divorce.

One Jewish family were victim to a bomb in Norfolk Square, as there were some bombs dropped on Brighton by the Nazis and Brighton was served by a number of anti-aircraft guns. Middle Street synagogue, narrowly avoided conflagration from incendiary bombs. Apparently, the rabbi managed to save the synagogue from two incendiaries at the front and rear of the building.

As was the case in other provincial towns, the presence of Jewish troops (many from Canada) helped keep the continuity of Jewish life over the period of the War. My father-law-was a boy in Brighton during the War and one of his first memories was of trying on a gas mask, there are other recollections of instructions received by the family in case of German invasion and of course the beaches were covered with mines and wire.

At the end of the War in Europe, members of the Brighton community sat around their radios and heard reports about the liberation of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, with horror. However, normal Jewish life resumed in the town and some of the evacuees and refugees stayed and became permanent members of the community.

The Foundation of the Modern State of Israel

Prior to the War there had been an active Zionist movement in Brighton and so the formation of the modern state of Israel in May 1948, was to have a powerful impact on the community, and many community members remember being deeply moved at the announcement. At Whittingehame College, Jacob Halevy, assembled all the boys in the main school hall, and at the moment of the establishment of the state of Israel, the whole school sang the Hatikvah. Martin Gilmour remembers the first Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations in Brighton, 'I, together with my parents attended the first Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations in a restaurant in Preston Street, Brighton, where the new Israeli flag was displayed. The flag was a little unusual in as much that it was fringed with gold braid and I remember we all sang Hatikvah with gusto.'

Brighton became a port of call for leading supporters of the state of Israel to make speeches and rally support for the fledgling state, in an era when Israel still held the sympathy and admiration of many. No less a luminary than Golda Meir, came to address Brightonians in 1950. She was the guest speaker at a JPA (Joint Palestine Appeal) fund-raising dinner held at the Royal Pavilion and this was a much talked about event. The local sponsors of the event were local business men and it seems from anecdotal evidence that Meir was not impressed with them, as she was not used to seeing Jews drink quantities of alcohol, as occurred during the course of the event!

Jewish Life in the 1950s

One notable development was the founding of the Reform synagogue in the town, the Brighton and Hove New Synagogue. The Reform synagogue saw its origins in 1955, when a group of young men and women, who were all in the local Jewish Tennis Club, wanted an alternative to the Orthodox Synagogue. Some of the older members recall that that originating spark was at a simcha (celebration) at the Metropole Hotel.

The founding of the Reform synagogue turned out to be a hard struggle. An initial meeting to establish local interest was called at the house of Barbara Monnickendam; she catered for 50, but only one other person turned up! Despite this inauspicious start a small Reform group (a kehilla) starting Reform worship as best they could. They were helped by loan of a Torah scroll from Czechoslovakia - these had been originally taken by the Nazis from liquidated Czech synagogues, but returned to the Jewish community after the War.

After a while the community became members of the Association of Reform Synagogues, and the Reform movement gave assistance in sending student rabbis and visiting ministers to help, giving prayer books and probably some financial assistance. Rabbi Erwin Solomon Rosenblum started his long and cherished association with the synagogue, when he was appointed the first rabbi of the community in 1956 (a position he was to hold until 1984). Rosenblum was a refugee who fled to this country in 1939 and his family were to perish in the Holocaust that followed, at Auschwitz, though Rosenblum was able to save may of his fellow yeshiva bocherim (Talmudic academy students)..

There was a succession of temporary synagogues for the fledgeling community, as it grew in stature and organisation. Boyle House in Third Avenue Hove, was the first, followed by the ground floor of 65 Holland Road in 1958, but the use of the building was not obtained without a close planning battle. By 1958 there was a membership of around 300.

Eventually, the community decided they needed a permanent home and a purpose built facility. A plot at the junction of Eaton Road and Palmeira Avenue was found (called 'Sleepy Hollow) which belonged to Lord Cohen who sold it to the community for £1,000. The new building was raised on deep piles due to the instability of the ground beneath and which accounts for the main synagogue being built at a higher level, with the AJEX Hall for social functions, on the lower ground level and which is dedicated to Jewish ex-servicemen and women who died in the Second World War. The building was completed and consecrated in 1967. The new building accommodated about 640 congregants

The creation of a new and successful Reform synagogue in Brighton had some impact on the Liberal Synagogue, as some of its members decided to go over to Reform, perhaps because it represented a more middle ground between a progressive and Orthodox position, which favoured the inclination of some.

The Orthodox congregation was also to experience an expansion in this period, as in the late 1960s, as a sister synagogue to the Middle Street Synagogue was opened in New Church Road, Hove, on land bequeathed to the Hebrew congregation by Louis Cohen. The expansion came about as more of the congregants came from Hove and needed a synagogue at a more convenient walking distance.

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