On my first Shabbat in England, I went to daven at the Edgware Synagogue. I was called up to the Torah, and since I was a Rabbi, all those present in the large congregation stood up. I must say that I felt rather embarrassed at this, since most of the congregation were much older than I and knew me from when I was a child. Towards the end of the service the then Minister, the Rev. Saul Amias, welcomed me to the Synagogue from his pulpit.
A few days later I made my first journey to Liverpool. On arriving at Lime Street station in Liverpool, I hailed a taxi and asked to be taken to the King David High School. As I looked out of the taxi window, I could see slum after slum and I wondered what sort of place I had come to. However, I need not have worried. The scenery suddenly changed to a beautiful green suburban area and we soon arrived at the school.
I entered the school and immediately met with the Headmaster who introduced me to the then Jewish Studies staff. It comprised two local teachers - Michael Rothbard, who at the time, in addition to Jewish Studies, also taught German and Modern Hebrew, and Sam Kauffman, who also taught boys their Barmitzvah portion.
There was also a shaliach from Israel, Shmaryahu Yahav. To supplement the lack of Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew teachers found locally, the Jewish Agency sent over teachers from Israel for two year periods. The reason for the two year period was that they were exempt from paying British income tax for two years. Should they have overstepped the two years by even one day, I understand they would have had to pay income tax retroactively from the time they arrived in England. The use of shlichim to teach Jewish Studies was not a satisfactory arrangement. They came just for two years, English was not their mother tongue and they were not used to English teaching methods. By the time they mastered all these obstacles, it was time to return to Israel.
I spent a day or two in Liverpool at the house of Rabbi Dr. Norman Solomon, who had been part time Director of Jewish Studies for a number of years. Rabbi Solomon’s full time job was Minister of the Greenbank Synagogue in Liverpool. He and his family were vegetarians and he told me that for the Seder night, the Lachs’ would give him the “shank-bone” well wrapped up to put on the Seder table. Rabbi Solomon had resigned his position at the King David High School, I understand as a result of ill health. I think however he had regretted this, since whilst I was in his house he put a very strange request to me - would I think of delaying taking up my position in the King David School for a year or so? I obviously answered in the negative - I had come over specially from Israel to take up this appointment!
Every year the Headmaster would write a Report summarizing the school’s previous year’s activities and this was published in the Annual Report of the King David Foundation. That year he wrote that “much has been done under the wise guidance of Dr. Solomon and we look forward to further progress under his full-time successor.”
The Headmaster suggested that although I only took up my appointment officially from January, it would be good for me to overlap my predecessor, Rabbi Solomon, during the three weeks of December until the school broke up for the December holidays. He suggested that I arrive each Sunday night in Liverpool and stay over until Thursday night and he arranged for me to stay at the house of the Lachs family. Before I finalised these arrangements, I made discrete inquiries regarding their kashrut standards and received a positive answer.
My family needed somewhere to live in Liverpool. I had decided from the outset that I would buy a house in Liverpool. Even for a few years, there is no better investment than bricks and mortar. But it takes time to buy a house and in addition to that, it was a very bad period for purchasing property. So much so, that there were frequent instances of “gazoomping” on the market. That is, even after a seller has agreed all the terms with a potential buyer but has not yet signed the contract, he is still be prepared to sell to someone else for a higher price!
The school owned a smallish house in Crondall Grove, which was about five minutes walk from the school, and the Headmaster suggested that my family rent this house from January. They would meanwhile give the present tenants, who were in no way connected with the school, notice to quit. We agreed and asked that the house be thoroughly cleaned before we took up residence.
I returned to Edgware and decided that during the intervening few weeks, I would have some preliminary meetings with people in Jewish education in the London area. I recollect that one of these people was Yaacov Lehman who had recently prepared the report “Let My People Know” for the Chief Rabbi. He invited me to his house one Sunday morning and during our conversation asked me two questions whose significance I only later appreciated. One was whether I had to do everything via the Headmaster or could go directly to the Governors and the second was whether the school was affiliated to the Zionist Federation Educational Trust (ZFET) or to the Torah Department.
My wife’s parents lived in Birmingham which is about half way between London and Liverpool and we decided that during the three weeks of December, my wife and daughter would stay there. On Sunday night, I would take a train from Birmingham to Liverpool and then a taxi to the Lachs’ house. The last Sunday night occurred during Chanukah and so I had to light candles in Birmingham, wait till they burnt out, pack up my Chanukiah, bottle of oil etc. and only then travel and arrive quite late in Liverpool. Likewise, on that following Thursday night, my return journey to Birmingham was late in the evening.
During those three weeks, I began to get to know the staff and the workings of the school. I would daven each day in the School Minyan.
The School was originally established in December 1840. This occurred during Chanukah and it is commemorated each year at about Chanukah time in the High School by what is known as the Founders’ Day Ceremony. That year, this ceremony included an address, I believe by Rabbi Solomon, the singing of a few verses from Maoz Tzur, the reading of an invocation, a memorial prayer to the Founders and a Recitation of the passage from the Apocryphal Book Ben Sira, “Let us Praise Great Men.” The staff would appear at this ceremony in their academic robes. Rabbi Solomon who had arranged the order of service informed me, as if just by chance, just beforehand, that I would be reciting the memorial prayer. I, who was used to saying prayers in the Ashkenazi pronunciation, used this when reciting this prayer. This caused quite a rumpus, and a number of people, including Henry Lachs, who had just been made Chairman of the Governors, commented on this, “In this school we use the Sephardi pronunciation.” Advocating the changing of the pronunciation in prayers from the traditional Ashkenazi has been going on for years (but not with the blessing of the Rabbis) in order to be like our brethren in Israel. However anyone familiar with Ashkenazi Shuls in Israel knows that most of “our brethren in Israel” use the traditional Ashkenazi pronunciation!
Despite the School’s policy in this respect, during my entire time at the King David High School, whenever I took the service, leined, read the Megillah (and I very regularly did these functions) and as far as I remember, also in many of my Gemara lessons, I used the Ashkenazi pronunciation. In fact, at one of the many School meetings which I attended, someone commented on the using of the Ashkenazi pronunciation in the School. Immediately a charming elderly lady who was a Manager of the Primary School, and a strong advocate of Sephardi pronunciation, but sadly not strong in her Yiddishkeit, jumped up on hearing this statement. I thought there was going to be an explosion, but miraculously the meeting went on to something completely different.
It was during these three weeks that the Governors met to appoint a new Senior Mistress. The previous holder, who was also a teacher of needlework, had just resigned to take up a position elsewhere. There were three candidates from amongst the staff and the Governors chose the head of Modern Hebrew. She had come to the school from Israel, and as I understood, she had no plans to return. After she had been appointed, one young pupil went to her and asked if she would now be teaching needlework! The way young minds think!