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Brighton and Hove Memories of Derek Jay

Derek Jay recalls how he came to Brighton from London, his long association with the Liberal synagogue in Brighton and Hove and its youth group and attitudes towards the Liberal movement.

Derek, when we had our preliminary meeting we agreed that we'd try to focus first on your arrival in Brighton and the Brighton and Hove synagogue, but in order to put that in context, could you talk a bit about your background, about where you were born, and what your parents did and all that basic information?

Yes, certainly. Well I was born in Willesdon in north-west London and I was brought up in that area, and as a child I went to several schools. My mother was always on the move, actually. But while I was there I did go to one or two Jewish clubs in that area in Cricklewood, which is a predominantly Jewish area. I grew up in that atmosphere, and as I said my mother moved around quite a bit but it was always in that area, Kenton, Harrow. And then I went to the Regents Street Polytechnic for a time, but the journey was a bit too much for me from Kenton, so I went back to a local school. Then after that, eventually of course the war arrived. My father had retail businesses in London, we were in suitcases, trunks, travel goods. I was in that for a time.

Was it a large family Derek? Did you have brothers and sisters?

No, I was the only child. My mother had another child when I was seven, but unfortunately he died, when he was three months old. Today of course he would have been saved, but in those days he had this problem with his stomach, I think a twisted gut or something and he died. My mother was terribly upset, very emotional about it and my father wouldn't let her have any more children. She wanted more children, but he didn't, so I was the only child. I was quite fearless and independent. They used to go out and leave me, I remember sometimes going to the theatre when I was in school in Kenton, and they used to ring me up in the interval and I used to say "Don't phone me up because you wake me up." I never had any fear actually, and that's the way I was brought up, as far as I can remember my background. Another, later, my mother... At fifteen I left school because I wasn't an academic type and I was really longing to get to work, very commercial, inheritance I suppose, and my mother said, "You're not going into your father's business to start with. You must go to another business to get business experience." Eventually I ended up at E&W Rose at Oxford Street, who sold materials and fabrics. They were predominantly a Jewish firm actually, and then they moved to Great Titchfield Street which was very close to Oxford Street. And I started there actually as an office boy, licking stamps, and in the post and eventually I went into the despatch department packing parcels, and eventually I ended up by being an assistant and serving materials. It was all wholesale. All wholesale trade and most of the materials came from all over the world. I learned that trade and I was there for a year and I think I started at 7/ 6- pence and ended up about two pound a week, which was very, very good. And then my father wanted me in his business and I remember they offered me more money to stay, but my father wanted me so I went into his business until the war came.

[Tape stopped and rewound to check sound quality.]

Before we go on to the war Derek can you just speak a little about your family's religious life, because you did mention that you were unusual having been raised in a Liberal synagogue rather than having made the transition?

You want me to talk about...?

Just a little about your family's religious connections before you came to Brighton. How that influenced you.

Oh yes. Well, my father belonged to Dennington Park in Hampstead, an Orthodox synagogue, and he used to go there, but he wasn't comfortable with Orthodoxy. He didn't speak a lot of Hebrew but he read. Of course he had a strong Jewish feeling. And then one day, I think it was when I was born. I don't know if it was before I was born or when I was born, he went into the Liberal Synagogue in St John's Wood. It was during Yom Kippur when people used to go around visiting. I don't know if you know the tradition was, they used to go from one synagogue to another. It happened in Brighton when I came here, just sitting for half and hour and then move on. And then coming back to my mother he told me later "I found the synagogue I like. I can understand." And he joined it. And that's how, and when I was of age, I think I was about six or seven, they sent me to the religion school there, and that's how we became Liberal Jews really. I was brought up in the Liberal Synagogue where I think I've told you Hebrew was very secondary. They didn't worry about Hebrew. Prophetic teaching was very strong there, and the Bible of course at that time. It was very nice and I enjoyed it there, and of course it was very Anglicised. The congregation was very Anglicised indeed. And they used to sing English hymns and they were sometimes very, very English. And two thirds of the service was always done in English so everybody understood. And of course they had some dynamic rabbis there. They had Rabbi Mattuck who came over from America. He was brought over. And he was quite dynamic. It's very...was a great actor, Americans had, tremendous amount of showmanship in him. And then there was Leslie Edgar who was much more English and who I knew very well actually. And so, eventually Rabbi Edgar married Rabbi Mattuck's daughter Dorothy. And of course it was...I think Rabbi Mattock wore himself out and he died. He wasn't so old when he died, he wore himself out I think. But we continued to go to the Liberal Synagogue and we enjoyed the services there because my mother could sit with my father and it made a tremendous difference religiously to our lives I think. I don't know if we'd have kept the Judaism otherwise because my father, he was quite strong but lukewarm about going to synagogue. So that was really the way I was brought up, in the Liberal synagogue and I still very much have their principles. It's taken me, it's very difficult to get used to a lot of the ritual that they perform now because I wasn't brought up in it at all.

Were you aware at that time how different it was from a traditional synagogue?

No! Because I didn't know any better. I mean, I only knew the Liberal synagogue. When I went to an Orthodox synagogue I couldn't understand a word they were saying, I didn't like it, it was all repetition, and even today I don't like it. I don't go to an Orthodox synagogue unless I have to because I can't accept it. The problem is I have to, I'm very modernistic in that way. I have to accept it, I have to - you know, reason, reason plays a big part in my life and if I can't accept what I'm doing I don't want to do it. I think probably that is the basis really of modern Jews. But I, I, actually, to be frank, I enjoyed the services before they became so ritualistic as they are today. I think a lot of it's extraneous myself. I know it's done, people like it, but I can't get used to it and that's one reason I don't go to synagogue as often as I used to.

Maybe that's a good opportunity for us to come back to your war experiences and your coming down to Brighton, because the Brighton congregation was quite different from what it is now, in those days, wasn't it?

Oh, absolutely.

Would you like to tell a bit how you came to be in Brighton?

Yes, well, when I came back from serving in the forces for five years my mother and father had moved to Brighton. They had a cottage, actually in Warninglid which is about half an hour away, and my father never liked living in the country. He was an urban type I think and they managed to swop over with somebody who wanted a cottage and they took this flat at Fairways which is just [...] and when I came back this is where I came. My mother and father said "They've been waiting for you. They want to start a youth group." So I said alright.

They'd already joined

They'd already joined the synagogue. They were members of the synagogue. They'd joined as soon as they arrived. They came to Brighton, they joined the Liberal synagogue.

Did they move during the war?

Yes, yes. It was during the war.

Was that as much for safety as for another reason?

Well, they moved for safety. We had experienced the bombing to start in London and then my father was a terribly nervous type and my mother wasn't so nervous. She was a fearless kind of person.

Like you?

Yeh, yeh. And he wanted to get out of it so they bought this cottage just outside Cuckfield, about half an hour's ride from here. And when I arrived back here they'd moved again into Brighton. So they mentioned about the youth group and I said yes, and the first meeting was in Diana Scharf's house which was a few doorways away from Fairways in Dyke Road. And we met there and we started a youth group which was remarkably successful.

How many of you were there and what ages were you?

Well, we started with a small committee and the ages actually. We wanted to go, it was supposed to be a youth group but the ages were very elastic. It started about fifteen and went up. Of course I was twenty-five anyway, and they went up to about twenty-five, my age. But it got so popular people wanted to join earlier. Eventually we had a membership of about a hundred, very enthusiastic members. And it broke down so many barriers in Brighton, because most of the Orthodox synagogues were very, very anti. In fact one minister said that it would be better to go to a Christian church than to go to the Liberal synagogue. I remember that remark. And, but, nevertheless, it didn't make any difference to the younger set. They still came and joined us, although some of them when you talked to them were anti-Liberal. Why they were anti-Liberal they could never give me a reason. I said, I used to say to them, "Have you ever been to a Liberal service". And they said no, so I said "Well, how do you know? How do you know?" So we started services. And one or two of them...

Your own services?

Our own youth group services. And one or two of them I gave a couple of, not sermons, just talks, I suppose, addresses to them, and any way we did gradually break down a lot of prejudices, no question about that. I think, you know, that was the beginning of the Liberal synagogue. But we had great fun there, wonderful fun. Because after the war people wanted to meet other Jewish children, you see, and the Maccabi, there was the Maccabi, I don't know why but the Maccabi lost a lot of favour and we got a lot of their members used to come over to us. There was nothing we didn't do. We did dances, we did debates, we did visiting, we used to go to Fontwell racing. There were no holds barred, like everything. But they all enjoyed each others company. We used to go on the river, I remember river outings we did, and then we used to have these debates and cultural events as well. But it was, you know, every, a lot of people met, they were married. Some of them. And some now, even as old as I am, they know me, they'll say "Oh Derek!" "Yeh, hello" It was a great time of freedom and fun.

Do you think that part of that was because it was post-war?

Oh, definitely.

And people wanted to enjoy themselves?

There weren't the diversions that we get today, like television and the educational demands that are made on children. It was a much freer era, and of course there wasn't the violence. It was a much softer kind of ... time I think you know. Things were happier. People were happier. They might not have had so much but they were happier, you know. It was a great time.

Was the youth club quite independent of the synagogue management group? It sounds like you were quite independent?

No, not at all. Actually Diana and I were invited as the youngest members to sit on the Council. I mean I sat on the Council from 1947, and I remember the Treasurer then, an old boy called Stefan, a dear old man, he came up to me one day, he put his arm around me and said "You know we do need younger people like you." He said, "on our Council", he said, we do need them." And no, not at all. No, they were very, quite enthusiastic. And they gave us all this support. As a matter of fact, I mean they made no demands on us at all. I mean some of the things we did really were [laughs], I wouldn't say irreligious, but they were. I don't think they would have been permitted. For instance, we had a dance and one of our members, Geoffrey Davis, who's a prominent member actually at Northwood and Pinner, he got a barrel of beer, and we brought a barrel of beer into the Montefiore Hall [laughs]. I mean outrageous some of the things they did. But they enjoyed it. It was fun. I've always been of the opinion that it's got to be fun, religion. I mean, if children go to religion school they've got to enjoy it. It's no good trying to get them there like they used to in the old cheder days. They've got to go, meet their friends, and say oh yes, it's nice to come to the religion school. And that's really what religion's about. I mean Judaism is a religion you can really enjoy. You know, you can really enjoy, I think. Because it's a logical religion. You know. And, you know, I've always enjoyed it anyway. I mean my children were bar mitzvah, and I was married there. So it's got a long history for me. And you know, whatever I feel about today and the ritual and that, I still have a great affection for it. It won't make any difference that way to me, although I don't go to synagogue so much. But that's the way it's evolved. And of course, people, everything evolves, I accept that. I accept that, but you don't have to accept everything personally. Some things you don't like, some things you do like.

You said something earlier that really surprised me because I had no idea the Youth Club was cross-communal. I thought it was just children, kids, young adults, who belonged to the Liberal synagogue.

No, not at all. Not at all. No, no, they came from right across the Jewish community.

And you mentioned the Maccabis. What were the Maccabis?

Well, the Maccabi [corrects interviewer's pronunciation], it's been going for years. It's still going in London. And they used to run everything, you know, events, a lot of sports, and they used to meet socially but they were an independent club. They still are. They're not associated with any synagogue at all.

And the children between what ages was it?

Well I think most of them were mid-ages, mostly Youth Club.


Yes, teenagers I would say. I would think that covers the majority. Teenagers and it was quite successful, but strangely enough after the war it wasn't so successful. And it gradually died out. I don't know why. I don't know why. I think...[inaudible].

The beer in the Montefiore Hall!

Yes, great times, actually. I can't remember them all, but I know it was a very happy time. Very happy time. And everybody met everybody else. Great fun was had there [spoken softly and with feeling].

Do you think the war had any influence on the growth of the congregation?

I don't know about that. I'm not sure whether it did. Of course I was away the best part of the war, overseas, so I didn't see what was going on. But I think after the war people did join synagogues, and, the Liberal movement has always been a kind of Cinderella, because Reform always compromised. They had an image, an in-between image, the Reform, they were respectable and we weren't. Which is still happening you see. And of course, anybody who wanted to leave the Orthodox movement would go to the Reform which it still does, because they would compromise. They had a din, [rabbinical judgement on religious observance] they had this and they had that, and they had more Hebrew in their services, and of course we, we, and of course we were the first to have women rabbis. I mean, I remember when it started we had "women rabbis?" they used to say. I'd say "Well why not!" I was always very pro, very pro-feminist, I think. Women played and are playing a very important part I think. And we started out that, you see. But at one time you see they made a pact, the Liberal and the Reform, that they wouldn't open in the same town. I remember that. And they broke the pact. There was a rabbi called van der Zyl, very well known. He was there for years in Berkeley Street and he was very anti anything like that. And of course, they didn't. I mean, at the moment the two movements, especially now, in this town, are so close together that I mean you could have one synagogue, really, cause there's very little in-between them. There was, I mean the Liberal had a different image all together than the Reform but it hasn't got so, such a different image today, I think.

Talk to me a bit about what that image was, because I'm quite interested.

What, the Liberal image?

Yes what it was in the town?

I think the Liberal image was that it was much easier to be converted into Liberal Judaism, much easier for non-Jews to accept Liberal Judaism. You could understand it. You didn't have to learn all that much Hebrew, if you learned the basic prayers you could get by. And you could bring your partner. And also it was easy for non-Jews to come to a Jewish service. And there wasn't the ritual, you know, the ritual that we get now, even in our synagogue. And altogether it was much more acceptable for them to go to a Liberal synagogue. Although, I mean we didn't make it any easier for conversions, and we didn't make it any easier for confirmations, for Bar Mitzvah. We said that, if they, at one time we insisted that if they were Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah they went on to confirmation. But it was very difficult to enforce, Very difficult to enforce.

Did they have Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs by the time you came in 1945? Because at one time they didn't actually do that, did they?

No, they just started then. I mean, they started when I was here. They didn't when they started. They had confirmation only. I mean I was confirmed at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue.

At sixteen?

At sixteen, there was a whole group of us who were confirmed and we had to write an essay I remember. And, um, we were confirmed by, I think it was Leslie Edgar at the time. It was quite a good service. I used to go. An impressive service. Generally, I mean they had a very big religion school at LJS. I don't know how many, I can't remember but there were lots of people and wonderful teachers. There was one called Miss Moos and she lived to her nineties. I don't know if you ever heard of her. She was legendary this women. She devoted her whole, never married, devoted her whole life to Liberal Judaism she did. [Voice drops] Whole life to Liberal Judaism. She was a wonderful character. Of course, she was Lord Swathlings daughter. You never heard about her?

I don't recognise the name Miss Moos.

Miss Moos. No. Lilly Montague you've heard of. You hear about the three M's - Montague and Mattock. But of course, Montefiore there's been a lot of controversy about him. He was an intellectual. They say he was more Christian than Jewish. It's been argued about. I don't know if it's propaganda or what, but he was the intellectual partner of Liberal Judaism, and Lily Montague believed in the vernacular very strongly, and of course she founded the girls' club and she believed that people should understand what they're saying. If they read Hebrew they don't understand always what the prayers are all about. Therefore she insisted that most of it was read in English.

Do you remember some of the, I was going to say 'characters', but I don't say that in the way it sounds. Some of the people who were involved when the synagogue was set up who were quite well known, they were probably still there. Our synagogue in Brighton. There was John de Lange.

John de Lange was an autocrat. He threatened to resign so many times. He's a real autocrat and very Anglicised. Of course the de Lange family are still going in the Reform movement. Nicky de Lange and all that we had here. But he ran the Council like a...[searching for word]

A fiefdom?

Yes, he wanted his own way all the time, John de Lange. But that was when I first sat on it, John de Lange, you see. Then there was - who were the others?

There were the Misses Heilbron.

I don't remember Mrs Heilbron. That was before my time, Mrs Heilbron. Mrs Heilbron was before my time. Uhm, what's the other?

There was the Davis, Denis Davis' parents.

Denis Davies, oh yeah, well his parents. Well Denis Davis was a character too actually. Very finickity he was. But honest as they come. And quite efficient. But, he worried about... But he was a good Chairman, and did the best of his ability. I'm trying to think of one in between there.

There was Joan Coleman-Cohen's parents?

I don't remember them. I remember the family but I don't remember the parents. Hershman's the one.

Clive Hershman's parents?

Now he was very Anglicised. Wouldn't wear a tallis and wouldn't wear a hat.

And was that common in those days?


Now we don't wear hats.

Yes, yes. I mean, there's no reason why you should wear a hat. It's not laid down anywhere that people should wear hats.

But it was still the tradition in the synagogue?

Yes, yes it was.

And were tallit also common?

Well, they wore them when they went up to the Bima. Yeh. He'd wear one when he went up to the Bima, but with Hershman, it was kind of ambitious to be the Chairman. And he became Chairman of East Sussex County Council.

Oh did he?

Yeh. And you know, they were, uh, on the snobbish side. They, I suppose you could call them snobs. They put a barrier around themselves and that was it. That was it. Baylinson of course I remember. He was a wonderful Rabbi, that man.

Tell me.

Rabbi Baylinson.

What was his first name?

He was an American.

Oh, I'm thinking of someone else.

Have you heard about him.

I've heard the name.

He was only here for three years. He did a lot in three years. He was typically American. Very succinct in his sermons, very good. There was no subject he wouldn't tackle. I remember him saying about God. He used to tell a joke about God being a man with a beard, and then why not a woman, a black woman. He was very controversial. Very provocative and good.

When was he here?

Oh, a long time. I can't remember the actual dates. Haven't you got an archive anywhere where you can look.

Well, I know he wasn't here before 1950, because that's when my research stopped. So it would have been...

Well it must have been in the fifties I suppose. He came over with his family and they were delightful. Unfortunately, he went back. He built the congregation up so fast because he was so good. We actually had two sittings for the High Holy Days. That's how good he was. We had to have two sittings. He was terrific, that man. He came from, eh, he went back to, eh, Alabama. In the south. And he was still serving a congregation in the South, I think. Montgomery.

Oh, the capital.

That's where he was. He was in Montgomery and he had a congregation. As a matter of fact, Aubrey Isaacs still I think communicates with him. Aubrey Isaacs. Aubrey Isaacs, now he was one. Aubrey Isaacs was anti-Liberal. Absolutely anti-Liberal.

He was a member of our synagogue and he was anti-Liberal?

He belonged to the Orthodox synagogue and he was anti-Liberal. At the finish, he not only joined the synagogue but his wife was converted there. That's what happened many a times.

That's the influence of one very good rabbi is what you're saying?

Well yes, I suppose the Rabbi had something to do with it, but that was just an example of what happened during the... that was a result of the Youth Club, because he was a member of the Youth Club.

We should talk more about the Youth Club, probably. It was obviously very, very important.

Well it was. I think it was a milestone actually. But what happened later on, what happened, I'm darting around a bit because my memory is...

That's fine.

The Reform of course had a very small congregation at the time under Rosenbloom and they were somewhere down in Holland Road, and of course there was no competition in those days. That was when Baylinson was here, but of course Lord Cohen gave them that bit of land and they built the synagogue and they never looked back.

Lord Cohen gave them that land?

Well he let them have it at a very low, very low sum of money, and he gave it to the congregation. He gave them the land and of course they built the synagogue and he joined that synagogue, left ours.

Because I remember at one stage, sometime in the forties, he actually bailed our synagogue out. I think £50 was due a builder.

Really, I didn't know that.

It was in the minutes. So I assumed that he was a supporter of the Liberal synagogue.

Yeh, well, he was at one time, and his family stayed, but he went. But he let them have this piece of land and of course from that day onward they were very strong competition with us. Very strong indeed. And of course we went through periods without rabbis you know.

Why was that Derek? Was it financial?

Well there was a shortage of rabbis and there were, no it wasn't financial at the time. And, uh, they didn't come to Brighton. You know, they'd rather take a post in London. A metropolitan area. You see that was the problem. And I don't know, in our congregation, I suppose they found bigger congregations. But that was why, actually. So that was, that made all the difference to our congregation.

And how did the congregation respond to not having a rabbi repeatedly?

Oh, they had wonderful lay readership. There were so many, I can't remember them all. But some of the lay readers were terrific. Some of them were terrific. Of course, in the beginning of the Liberal movement they used to have a lot of lay readers. And then Archie Fay really was a lay minister.

He's the only one that I'm aware of.

Yeh, well of course he was, eh, a minister for many, many years. He was so loved. More than any other minister ever. People still talk about Archie Fay and Elizabeth Fay because they were really loved those two, and they communicated with you all the time. I mean Jean was converted by Archie Fay. And she was very fond of him and Elizabeth. It made her conversion. And they were so wonderful to her. They, not only helped her, but they integrated her into the congregation. Used to ask us out to dinner and that kind of thing. But one of the things about ministers. Some ministers communicate better than others. And some are warmer than others. Some are very very warm. You take to them right away. And others are different, you see, they've all got their own personalities. I've seen them all come and go. We used to have one called Isaacs. He came from South Africa. He was training at Leo Baeck College and came to us part-time. Delightful man, he was. Delightful man. Uh, he once said to me, we didn't wear hats, so he said, "you know Derek, you'd look very nice in a hat, in a kuppel." [skull cap] He said, "and it would be nice to have everybody in a kuppel," and he convinced me, and after that I wore one. Because he just said that to me, and he was such a nice man, they were lovely people, yeh, yeh. It's amazing the rabbis we've had. I've lost count. Some were good, some weren't so good. But, you know, it's been a kind of eventful [laughter] I would say. I've seen all kinds of things happen. And they've all got their strengths. I mean, Elli's a wonderful rabbi. You couldn't fault that woman. She works so hard. And she's so good. You couldn't fault her. I mean, that's her strength.

She's a very good rabbi.

She is, she is. I've no question about it. Eh, but, uh, she's different in other ways, you see. Uh, we'll leave it at that.

But there seemed to be a real social life around the synagogue in the forties and early fifties?

Yes, and it's always been a very friendly synagogue. A very close community. I mean there's no kind of snobbishness about our members. They've always been very friendly. You know, friendly. I mean there's people you've probably never heard of like Henry Cushman. Now he was one, he was lovely man, they all played a very big part in the life of our synagogue when you look back. I mean after all the synagogue's not a building it's people. It's the people that matter. The building is important but its secondary. Really. And so, there you are.

The building seems to have been a bit of a white elephant from the beginning.

Yes. Yes I mean, if Lord Cohen had given us that bit of land. it would have done us a lot of good. But you see, it was an old gymnasium, and it wasn't in very good condition when we bought it, and I think we've been maintaining it ever since.

We have. We have. In fact I found very encouraging to look back at the minutes for the 1940s and discover that they were discussing the roof even then, in the 1940s. So they're not problems we've created recently.

No, no. We, we, it was, it has. It's been a problem to us all the time.

When you joined in 1945 did it have the stained glass windows and the bima or were those things

Baylinson, I think, promoted those, if I remember rightly. People gave money for them. And, uh, but they never continued them. They as you see, some were contributed, others weren't. It's a pity that. People generally give money for a building strangely enough.

People like bricks and mortar?

Yes, yeh. Quite right. I suppose it is, bricks and mortar. But I don't know. You try to think back at all the things that have happened to you, but, you know at my age you get frustrated because your memory doesn't always respond to what you want to say [laughter].

You're doing very well at the moment Derek!

But, eh, what else can I say.

When you stayed on the management committee, on Council, to represent the Youth Club

When I was Chairman

At what stage did you cease being a "Youth" and did you become a proper grown-up member so to speak.

It's a very difficult one, isn't it. I think gradually the Youth Group dissolved itself after many many years. I can't think, I can't remember. Eventually we had, it went. And I can't quite place how it all, Diana might! Have you interviewed Diana yet?

I'm going to see Diana tomorrow.

She might remember. Her memory's probably better than mine. She might tell you. She'll tell you different things to me [said with animation]. She's got a good memory for rabbis. Because she had one called Certes from America, who was a disaster. A real disaster, I'd say. But he married Diana and she figures it was about the best thing he did.

Her husband was a rabbi, you say?

He was a rabbi.

Oh, I didn't know that.

What happened was, we wrote to the Hebrew Union College and this rabbi was highly recommended. And he came over and he wasn't much good at all and he went back after a few months. I remember that. She'll probably tell you about that.

Oh, I thought you said she married him.

No! No! He married her!

That's a bit of history, I thought, this is very strange.

No, she married Ernest White.

Yes, that's what I thought.

He was a lovely man. A lovely man. I think they met at the synagogue I think. She'll tell you. She'll tell you. She'll fill in the things I don't remember.

What was your position after you no longer represented the Youth Club on Council?

Well, I was on the Council I've been on the Council since '47, so I used to take a very active part in the Council, all the activities. Of course we used to run dances in those days, a lot of social events. The Magrills used to help a lot with that. And I used to get involved in most things, and eventually I managed, my father became a vice-chairman under Hershman at one time. He's quite a timid chap my father. And eventually I became chairman after a vote. There was Hershman and a chap called Fraser. You probably never heard of these two. Well, Fraser and Hershman were both very Anglicised Jews. Very Anglicised. Much more than I am [chuckles], and when Hershman retired he wanted Fraser to be Chairman. And when a vote was taken, I put myself up, and when the vote was taken they all voted for me.


So he was a bit put out by it.

Did they stay on Council?

And I was Chairman for many years.

When was this? When were you Chairman first?

I can't remember the date.

Roughly. Was it 1960s?

Yes, 1960, 70s. Something like that.

When you say they were very Anglicised, even more Anglicised than you, can you explain what you mean by that?

What that they were more Anglicised than me? They were more English than Jewish in their services and everything. Much more, and...they were on the snobbish side. They thought they were that little bit better all the time.

Was it an element of class involved?

I think so. With Hershman definitely class involved, and I think a bit with Fraser. They considered themselves just a little bit above, more English than Jewish. Mind you, you know, I don't think I mentioned it but when the Liberal Synagogue, to start with they were anti, anti-Zionist you know. The Liberal Synagogue. You knew that did you?

Tell me.

To start with they didn't want the state of Israel. Because they thought that Jews were, eh, disseminated throughout the world and that was the strength of them, and if they all lived in one country, it would weaken them. But they changed their mind after a time because they realised it was a home for the Jews.

Do you think the experience during the war influenced that?

Yes I think so. And eventually they came out backing Israel. That was one of the things I remember because, of course, they had this Labour government and Bevin was very pro-Arab and very anti-Semitic. The Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevan his name was. You heard of Ernest Bevin?

Oh yes.

Yeh, well, and therefore there was a lot of feeling about it in this country with the Jews [voice very soft].

This is somewhat unrelated to the history of our synagogue specifically, but as an American I've always been very conscious of British Jews being much more defensive about their Jewish background. Much more reluctant to make, to present themselves as being Jewish to the outside world. Do you think that was also an issue for Liberal Jews? Do you have any thoughts or comments about that?

Yes, I think so. I think you were right in one sense, because my name was Jacobson, and when I went in the service my name was still Jacobson. When I came out my parents had altered it to Jay because my mother had a, there was a lot of anti-Semitism with Moseley and the Black shirts and she felt it was better [inaudible]. I don't know why she felt that because when I was in the service I never had any, I can only think of one item of anti-Semitism when I was in the RAF and then my colleagues jumped upon the man who did it, they wouldn't stand it at all. So that never happened. But when I came out, I tell you what there was a feeling of... a lot of the Jews had this persecution thing. They thought that all goys as they called them were anti-Semites. I never felt that at all and I used to argue about it but I remember in my mind they used to think that only in Jewish company could you be safe. They all harboured anti-Semitism. That was in England. That was in England. But I think you're right. Some of them did keep very quiet about being Jews, but of course, when you think of the number of Jews you've got in America, that was the strength of them. Six million Jews in America, of course, they were very strong. You know they could...

In certain cities, yes.

Yes, in New York for instance. But here there were never more than about three hundred thousand Jews out of about sixty odd million English. They were a very small percentage. But of course it all went I think when all the German Jews came over, you know. That's made a tremendous difference. When they came over, first of all the British were a bit anti. They didn't like the idea. Then gradually during the war the people who served in the war got so used to foreign, as they called foreigners, you know, that they became much more international. And it altered the whole atmosphere in this country. Whereas they would never accept anybody outside England, and then they had to because it's gradually disseminated throughout the country, wine-drinking and all that [laughs]. It's become much more international, don't you think so?

Well, it's become part of Europe.

Yes, I think it's made a tremendous difference. But you're right. I think they were defensive. Especially a lot of them were very defensive about being called Jews. Used to keep it quiet [softly]. I think that's quite true.

Was there, I mean did your family, aside from changing their name, did your family have that same defensiveness.

No! No. We had lots of non-Jewish friends, always. Always had non-Jewish friends and my father, he had non-Jewish friends. My father was such a typical Jew. I mean, he had a big nose, typical Jew, so he could never disguise the fact that he was a Jew and never did. As a matter of fact he was a remarkable chap because he had no self-consciousness at all. None at all. You know, he'd always be himself regardless of what people thought or what they didn't think. And that was good for me. But I had a wonderful childhood. A wonderful happy childhood.

Very secure childhood?

Very secure and very loving. I think that's probably served me very well over the years, I think probably. And, uh, I loved my parents and you know I was a very obedient child. I never

[First side of tape ended and interviewer was unaware. Side two picks up several minutes later.]

You know what mothers and sons are like [laughs].

I'm just going to make a note of when the tape seemed to have stopped. Hopefully we didn't lose too much.

I should think I'm rambling all over the place.

No no no.

I don't mind talking, but what frustrates me is I can't remember certain things. I mean, there's so much in my mind I can't think of it.

Well, you know, sometimes, you may go away tonight and what we discussed this morning will spark things off. And also I'll eventually, not overnight because it takes time, but I'll transcribe the tape, then I can also have a copy made of it for you at the university, and you can fill in things [he laughs] that come to you that have been left out. That's a perfectly legitimate part of the process. And I'd be very happy for you to do that if you wanted to. It's much quicker if you have a transcript than actually listening to the tape because it will take you forty-five minutes to listen to a forty-five minute tape, but it would only take you ten minutes to probably read it.

I'm sorry that the synagogue hasn't kept a more accurate record of everything, like the rabbis that came in.

Well, I've only done my research up to 1950, Derek. There is a lot of material in boxes and on the shelves upstairs that I haven't looked at yet. So I think there is material available. How systematic it is I don't know. I'll have to find out. That's a long research project.

Are you getting a picture in your mind?

Do I have a picture?

A picture in your mind of what went on?

I wouldn't mind a little bit more detail about some of the events that the Youth Club held and how you all sort of bonded...

Diana might help you out there because she's got a very good memory and I think she remembers most of the Youth Group outings and things that we did. But, em, they were great fun and they were a great social gathering. Used to get a lot of support. Used to do a lot of good.

If you were delving into the synagogue's early years, or those early post-war years, what would you consider it important to talk about? To pass on.

[Pause] I suppose the evolution of it. The way it's gone from one thing to the other, that's the most important thing. It started off very Anglicised and gradually it's come where it is today. I mean the principles are still the same. Elli doesn't alter the principles. Very, very, progressive, the things she does are very progressive, so it's still very, very progressive synagogue. I mean we can call ourselves progressive with honesty. I mean, how do you find it? I'm not interviewing! [Laughter] But how do you find the synagogue?

[For the remaining few minutes of the interview Derek asks the interviewer about her background and religious education which is not transcribed as not relevant to the interview and the project.]

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