I was born in November 1942 in Edgware, which is just outside north-west London. At the age of nearly five, I began my schooling at Broadfields Primary School, the local primary school encompassing that area. At that time there were no Jewish schools in the area.
The Second World War had only recently ended and the level of Yiddishkeit in England at that period was dismal. The factors for this could have been that the men had been in the British armed forces for many years and children had been evacuated to the countryside. In addition, even before that war, Yiddishkeit was weak in England.
Already in the late 1940s there were a large number of Jews living in that part of Edgware and about one third of my primary school was Jewish. The headmaster was a Scotsman and in any lesson he taught, he would reprimand a disproportionate number of Jewish pupils. I can say that the Jewish pupils were no worse behaved than their non-Jewish counterparts.
According to the 1944 Education Act, schools in Britain must begin with an act of collective worship and Scripture is a compulsory subject. In Broadfields school, both the Christian and Jewish pupils assembled together for this act of collective worship. For Scripture, there was a separation between the Jewish and Christian pupils, with the Jewish pupils being taught “Old Testament” by one of the non-Jewish teachers.
There is also a provision in this Act by which parents can withdraw their children from these activities. Whilst I was at this school, the Rev. Saul Amias, who was Minister of the Edgware United Synagogue, wrote to his congregants informing them of this right. A number of pupils including myself thus opted out of the assemblies and Scripture lessons. Since there were such a large number of Jewish pupils in this school, I often now wonder why the Jewish community did not send someone to the school to conduct a Jewish assembly and give the Scripture lesson.
At that period the sole Jewish instruction given in Edgware was in the Hebrew Classes. These met on Sunday mornings for three hours and for older children on Tuesdays and Thursdays for one and a half hours beginning at five o’clock in the evening.
In my view, the teaching was “catastrophic” and largely consisted of “parrot-wise” translation of texts. I have often heard people complaining that boys leave these Classes at the age of Barmitzvah and girls even before that age. With this type of syllabus, I congratulate the children for sticking it out so long!
When I enrolled in these classes, I already knew the Hebrew letters by their names. In my first lesson, there was a substitute teacher - a girl aged about twelve years old! - and I remember her writing various Hebrew letters on the blackboard and asking us if we knew what they were. For example, she wrote the letter “bet” on the board. I put up my hand, or possibly just called out “beis.” “No,” she said “its ber”. This went on throughout the lesson!
I attended these Hebrew classes for about five or so years. Considering the time I was there, I cannot say that I, or anyone else, really learnt a lot. But that was Jewish education in the Hebrew Classes during the decade after the Second World War. Pedagogic methods for teaching Anglo-Jewish youth had not yet been developed; the teachers were untrained; there were no good text-books.
It was during this period that Rabbi Kopul Rosen established Carmel College. The school opened with just over 20 boys in Newbury, Berkshire in September 1948.
The school was kept in the Jewish public’s eye by a display advertisement which appeared in almost every week’s "Jewish Chronicle". Until 7 August 1953, the address of the school appeared as “Newbury” and two weeks later it started to appear as “Wallingford” where the school was then in the course of removing to.
How did I come to go to Carmel? It was towards the end of Pesach 1953 that one of my aunts came to my house with the latest issue of the “Jewish Chronicle.” In it was an announcement from Carmel College saying they were awarding six scholarships, which would cover up to about half the fees. My family had already heard of Carmel College, since a distant relative, Ian Caller, was studying there.
After Pesach, my father wrote to them for an application form for the scholarship. This form asked for details of medical history, school history and attainments and Jewish education and attainments. I recollect that in some cases very little room was left for the answers. My father typed in the answers to the questions.
In the previous term, I had come top of the class in my primary school and we sent my school report. We also went to speak to Rev. Amias to ask him for a letter certifying my attainments in Jewish activities. He asked me a few questions and then wrote out a letter pointing out that I had at the Hebrew Classes been an annual prize winner without break, had in the previous year received the prize for the best Chanukah essay and that I regularly attended Shul and “davened better than some of the adult worshippers.”
We sent off all these papers and were soon informed that the examination would take place on a certain Sunday. That Sunday I travelled with my father by coach to the school.
The candidates were ushered into a classroom and were given a paper in mathematics to answer. Those above the age of eleven and a half were given a more difficult paper. As I remember it, there were ten questions and they got harder as they went along. There was then a paper in English which included a comprehension. In one of my answers to it, I wrote about “green geraniums”! One also had to write a short essay and one of the subjects was Purim.
The next test was an intelligence test. We were handed out printed booklets and after doing a few sample questions with the teacher in charge, we began the test. One of the questions was to draw a square and inside it write the letter “B” as seen in a mirror. We had to answer about fifty questions in each section in four minutes, writing in the answers in pencil. The master then said we should turn over and begin the next section. In case one’s pencil would break during this test, each candidate was supplied with two pencils. I remember asking the teacher what would happen if we succeeded in breaking both points?! He told me that he had spare pencils.
After this there were the interviews. Since it was almost time for the coach I had booked to depart, I was given the first interview. These were conducted by Rabbi Rosen assisted by several teachers. They asked me a whole variety of questions. I recollect doing a mental arithmetic question on simple interest. The teacher said that my answer was not quite accurate, although when I asked my father who was an accountant, he said that my answer was correct. I also recited part of a poem I had recently learned in school. During the interview I was asked what sporting event would soon be taking place and I answered “Will the Australians be playing England in cricket?” To this Rabbi Rosen answered, “Yes they will be.” As I left after the interview, I said “Shalom” to the teachers.
My father quickly ordered a taxi and we rushed together with another parent to try and catch the coach to return to London. But we had missed it! The taxi driver offered for thirty-four shillings (quite a sum in those days) to catch up the coach at Reading, but we decided against this. Instead we decided to return to London by train. At the station we met another candidate Moshe Leibovich, who became a great friend of mind throughout my stay at Carmel, and indeed afterwards in Israel. Moshe would keep walking at the edge of the platform and his father kept making him come back. I exchanged addresses with Moshe and said we would let each other know our results of this examination.
A few days later, the results arrived by post. I had been awarded a scholarship worth 130 pounds a year, which was the highest value scholarship that the school was awarding. When I arrived at my school that day, I briefly related about my Carmel scholarship to my form teacher, who then told me to inform the headmaster. I went to him that morning and told him. He obviously had heard of Carmel College since as soon as I told him, he answered that that was a Jewish school. He asked me for a copy of the letter we had received from Carmel and my father typed out a copy for him, omitting the value of the scholarship. He did not feel that this was any of the business of the headmaster.
I also took the question papers to Broadfields school and the form teacher read them out to the class. When he came to the word “Purim,” he asked “what on earth is that?”
As promised, I wrote to Moshe Leibovich and he replied that he had received a similar value scholarship.
We then began the long arduous preparations for my going to Carmel.
We soon received a long clothes list of the minimum things required. It began with a trunk, a tuck-box, a hand-case, a travelling rug (I never understood why this was included!), and then a whole list of items of clothing, usually three of each. Twelve handkerchiefs were required. Also included were sheets, pillowcases and towels. The general list concluded with a supply of names tapes for the school’s use and a soap bag to include such items as soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, nailbrush, comb, nail scissors etc. After this followed the sports clothing required. Since sports change with the changing seasons of the year, there was included one list for the winter and spring terms and another for the summer term.
Many of the items of clothing were school uniform which had to be obtained from Harrods. These included a blazer, cap, tie, scarf, socks, pullover and various sports items. We were instructed that every item of clothing had to have a “Cash’s name tape” sown on it and that marking with Indian ink was not sufficient.
In the same street where I lived was a boy who had joined Carmel one term before me. I thought that he could surely advise me on things which were not clear to me on this clothes list. However the information he gave me was on the whole more destructive than constructive. For example, he said I should buy two school caps instead of one. I did this but this was a complete waste of money.
That summer I went with my mother to Harrods to purchase the various items of clothing. At the time they had no blazers or ties in stock. The blazer finally arrived about a week before I began at Carmel and the ties arrived by post on the actual day the term started.
We also ordered a gross of Cash’s name tapes and my mother then had the very tedious job of sowing them on to each item of clothing. My aunt who had a sewing machine sewed them on to such items as the handkerchiefs, the sheets and maybe some other items. For the shoes we were instructed to put one’s school number with nails on the instep of the shoes. We didn’t do this but wrote my name inside the shoes with ink.
I was given the school number 278. I was the 277th boy to join Carmel - I heard that the first housemaster had been superstitious and so there was no boy with the school number 13. We were originally told that the term would begin on 21 September. However, we were later informed that the start would be delayed by two weeks to 5 October. [This was the 278th day of that year - the same as my school number!] The reason for this delay was that the school at the time was removing to Mongewell Park near Wallingford and that the premises were not yet ready.
Rabbi Rosen also wrote a letter to all the parents saying that various parents were interested in seeing the new premises and in order to accede to this “praiseworthy curiosity” they would have a visiting day at Mongewell Park on a certain Sunday. My parents did not manage to go that day. They were also invited to the speech day at the end of that summer term, but because of a family wedding were unable to go and my father accordingly sent a letter of apology.
That year, 5 October was after Simchat Torah and a few weeks earlier on Rosh Hashanah, I started to wear my Carmel cap for Shul. This Carmel cap had a very long peak and I recollect a non-Jewish boy in Edgware calling after me “violet long peak.”
As the beginning of term approached, my trunk and tuck-box were packed and dispatched by Carter Paterson (later known as British Road Service) to Carmel. [After a few years we learned that it was quicker to send luggage by British Rail.]
The fifth of October arrived. The school had arranged a special train to take the pupils from Paddington station to Wallingford station and that it would leave Paddington at 3.33 (an easy time to remember!) that day.
[This train always reminds me of Agatha Christie. She had a big mansion in Wallingford and a number of her stories are located in this area. In particular one of her books is called the 4.50 from Paddington and takes a similar route as the Carmel train. On Agatha Christie’s train a murder took place - fortunately this did not occur on the Carmel train.]
That day I said goodbye to my family and together with my father left for Carmel. My father always liked being early and we arrived at Paddington at about 2.30. At the station we met Barrie Schreiber, a boy of about my age who had also been awarded a scholarship, together with his mother. My father and his mother were soon in earnest conversation together.
Since this was my first term at the school, my father decided to come all the way with me to Carmel. On the train, there were naturally some teachers to accompany and supervise the pupils. One of them, Dr. Alexander Tobias, was a distant relative of mine and also during the period of the Second World War, was Minister at the Edgware United Synagogue, in place of Rev. Amias. My father introduced himself to him and he said that he vaguely remembered my father from Edgware.
Another name I heard boys call out on the train was “Dr. Friedman.” My immediate reaction was that in Edgware there is a Dr. Friedman. The difference here was that in Edgware he was a medical practitioner and in Carmel a teacher of History.
The train to Wallingford went first to Reading where there was some unhooking or hooking of other carriages on to the train. (I don’t know which of these two; I have never been employed by British Rail!) It then continued on to Cholsey, where the Carmel carriages were unhooked. The final stage was on the single track line to Wallingford. Normally a one carriage train went on this branch line from Cholsey. [For those interested in the vintage of the Carmel school trains and also this one carriage train which daily graced Wallingford station, can find it all excellently described in an article by Henry Law in “Reflections.”]
During the period I was in Carmel, this branch line came under the axe of British Rail and was eliminated. On going to and from Carmel we then had to get off the train at Cholsey. Rabbi Rosen once remarked after the closing of this branch line, that in Mir where he studied in Yeshivah, just as in Wallingford, there was no train station.
When we arrived at Wallingford station, we were ushered on to waiting coaches, from the local firm of Tappins, to take us to the school.
On arrival at the school, we went, as far as I recollect, into the gymnasium, which was in darkness and were told the number of the table we should sit on in the dining hall. We then went there and our first meal included tomato soup which was served in milk jugs. The members of this table were then told that our dormitory would be the “long dorm” which was situated in an annex of the gymnasium.
Meanwhile, unknown to me, my father was looking for me since he wanted to return home. After the meal he found me in the main building and we said our good-byes.
He realised that it was too late to get a train from Wallingford and he succeeded in finding someone going to Oxford who would give him a lift. This person did not take him to Oxford station but dropped him somewhere in the middle of the city. After walking for about half an hour, he reached the station. Fortunately the weather was pleasant that October evening. However, unfortunately, when he reached the station, he discovered that he had missed the London train by five minutes and would have to wait two hours for the next one. He meanwhile telephoned home to order a car to meet him at Paddington station. By the time he arrived home in the wee house of the night, I was well and truly asleep.
I was now a pupil at Carmel College! Pupil number 278 had reported!