Brighton & Hove
Marcus Roberts


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Jewish Youth in the 1950s

The 1950s was, it would seem, a golden era for the Jewish youth of Brighton and Hove, even allowing for the rose lenses of nostalgia. Social commentators assert that the 1950s saw the invention of the teenager, who were no longer regarded simply as miniature adults, and who due to rising affluence were to have sufficient economic and spending power to assert their own tastes and independence.

This certainly seems true of the Brighton Jewish youth scene, who had plenty of other young Jewish people to socialize with and quite a lot to do and to entertain themselves. Jewish youth went to the local (Jewish) cinemas (for example Harry Jacobs - owned the Curzon Cinema in Western Road), for regular entertainment. There were regular house parties, and also they gathered together at coffee bars (such as Cordoba coffee bar in Western Road owned by Sam Levy and was perhaps the best know of all the bars). The then teenagers recall meeting at the coffee bars and spent whole evenings talking over a single cup of expresso, which then cost nine old pence!

The local dance clubs were then very popular, (one of the most popular was the Regent dance hall, adjacent to the Clock Tower, Brighton), and the youth enjoyed the new 'Rock and Roll'. They were often joined by teenagers from London, as well as foreign Jewish students from Whittingehame College. What was notable was that the youth often mixed across community divides, so that youths who parents affiliated, for example at the Liberal synagogue would socialize with those from the Orthodox community. These Jewish teenagers enjoyed a considerable amount of freedom

What made this youth scene so different from to-day, is that most young Jewish people tended to stay on after their formal education and work in Brighton, rather than, is the case today, upping sticks and going to London, Manchester, or even Israel. This ensured there were many young Jewish people in Brighton in their teens and twenties and that the community was both viable and vibrant. They were even joined by other young Jewish people choosing to move down from London itself.

The most fondly recalled location, was the so called 'Maccabi Beach', situated just below Brunswick Square. Here Jewish youth met, listened to the new transistor radios and where many new friendships and romances began.

The era of Mods and Rockers in Brighton also affected the resident Jewish youth. It was 1964, the year of the Mods and Rockers invasion, when Brighton witnessed mass breakouts of fighting, piles of deckchairs being set alight and many windows smashed along the seafront. David Felsenstein recalls one particular incident when, 'In 1964, many of the local young Jewish population were enjoying a hot May bank holiday afternoon on Maccabi Beach. The mood was happy, with pirate radio stations Caroline and London competing loudly from numerous transistors. Suddenly, there appeared at the railings above Maccabi Beach, a large crowd of Mods obviously looking for trouble. Everyone turned off their radios and the beach fell silent. As if by some secret command and without saying a word, every Jewish male stood up and turned to face the Mods. The message was clear, and after a scary few minutes, the Mods decided against pursuing their obvious intent to come onto the beach and cause more mayhem, and moved off.' Here, evidently, Maccabi beach lived up to the name of its fore-bearers!

There was also a very active Maccabi club, which was another major meeting point for youth and where a plethora of sporting activity went on; there was table tennis, football and athletics. The social scene was also very active, with an annual dance at Hove Town Hall, as one of the high-lights. There were also concerts that even attracted leading stars. John L. Joseph recalls, 'I was introduced to the club by my cousin, Johnny Monk, and on my first visit there was a concert. We had a young guy on a visit from the States - his name was Jerry Lewis - THE Jerry Lewis.'

The Maccabi Club remained active until the mid 1960s, but then petered out. However, other social clubs continued to be a focal point, such as the Liberal (Synagogue) Club in Farm Road or organizations such as Achdud , the later meeting every Monday.

The Liberal synagogue club itself has been active in the 1950s and Martin Gilmour recalls that, 'In the 1950's, when I was 14 years old, I and my friends joined a Jewish club for teenagers held in the Liberal shul hall, Lansdowne Road, Hove. The club was led by a local businessman, Mr Geoffrey Cobb and his friends. We joined, even though we were a little sceptical at first of attending a club at Liberal shul premises, a venue not familiar to us. I remember one of our group checking the club out before we decided to join and to our surprise we came across other Jewish teenagers that we had never met before. In fact, I met my first real girlfriend at that club and we are still friends even today. The club and its programmes were beautifully run and intelligently organised. Lots of fun, dances, debates, competitions, and outings to various places, including London.

For the working members of the community, with families, there was an identifiable Jewish way of life in Brighton in the 1950s. Synagogue membership was active, though there were certain tensions and rivalries between the different congregations. Linda Freedman recalls, for example, how her family, were members of the Brighton and Hove Hebrew Congregation, and how she and her siblings attended Middle Street Synagogue. 'Dad went Friday nights and opened his shop Saturday mornings; going to Brighton & Hove Albion in the afternoon. This was quite a typical way of life for Brighton Jewish shopkeepers.' Support for Brighton & Hove Albion was popular among the community, though as Bryan Brooks recalls about life in the 1950s, 'For long term suffering there was nothing quite like the Goldstone ground on a Saturday afternoon, to support "The Albion".'

The local Jewish connections with 'The Albion' were intensified, when Dr Herzl Sless, a well-known local Jewish doctor, (and who was President of the Holland Road Synagogue and raised the money to purchased a new Hillel House in Brighton in the 1950s), and became the honorary medical officer for the Brighton Tigers Ice Hockey Team. He became the doctor for the team, after he was introduced to the Brighton Stadium in East Street, through a patient who asked him to help out for one match on a Sunday evening, but he was to continue until the ice stadium closed.

He then moved to Brighton and Hove Albion also through the intervention of a friend and patient. The high light of his tenure was when his team went to Wembley for the Cup Final in 1983. He was extremely popular and served for many years in this capacity, but when his team left the Goldstone Ground he felt that after nearly 40 years he needed to pass on the mantle to a younger man as, 'new rules for crowd control and players safety were introduced after Lord Woolf's report and Herzl felt he was too old to learn 'new tricks and run on the pitch'

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