The original idea came from one of our shlichim, Zvi Yahalom, in the autumn of 1974. He suggested that we take a group of pupils away for several days in the December holidays to Aviemore in Invernessshire in Northern Scotland for a skiing holiday. I immediately liked the idea, or at least the principle of it. In a day school, one is limited with the pupils. One only sees them for a few hours each day and only on weekdays. To really teach pupils Yiddishkeit, one needs them 24 hours a day, including Shabbat. One will then be able to direct them to all the Mitzvot that one has to observe during the week.
The first question to be answered was where we would stay. It would be absolutely essential to be the only people in the place and to have absolute control over the kitchen. Without this, kashrut would be well nigh impossible.
We found out that there was a Youth Hostel in Aviemore. The question was whether they would let us take it over completely for a few days. I had a meeting with one of the leaders of the Jewish Lads Brigade (JLB) in Liverpool, who had had experience in taking away groups. He informed me that what we wanted did not accord with Youth Hostel policy. They did not encourage religious observance and the most that they would allow was a “short grace.” Another solution was thus required.
What if we found some Jewish place in Glasgow to sleep and eat? Would it be feasible to travel each day to Aviemore? I discussed this with Henry Lachs and he said that it was not feasible on the narrow roads in the highlands of Scotland, since one could only travel on them slowly. Another venue considered was Birmingham. My wife’s family lived there and my father-in-law spoke to the Rabbi of one of the Shuls, who said that we could use rooms in the Shul. We however, rejected this possibility.
I met again with the leader of the JLB and he put forward various venues. I reported on my meeting to the Headmaster and he was rather surprised that the JLB leader had not mentioned a large mansion in Port Dinorwic, the place which they themselves often used.
After some investigation, we decided that Port Dinorwic was a suitable place and we booked the mansion for a period of three days. This period began on Sunday the 7th day of Chanukah and went on until Wednesday of that week.
It was at this stage that the hard work began. After various discussions and investigations, we decided that our seminar would be limited to boys. We initially decided that it would be for boys of the 3rd year (ages 13 - 14). Later on, with the consent of the rest of the participants, we allowed a few 2nd year boys to join in. Application forms were duplicated and we calculated how much we would have to charge each pupil. The Merseyside Jewish Welfare Council had a fund to assist parents who could not afford to bear the cost themselves.
We obviously could not use the crockery supplied by this mansion since it was not kosher. Since the school had none for this purpose - we were the pioneers of such a programme - we would have to start from scratch and purchase it. I was told about how much I could spend on such things. Having had no experience in catering, I first imagined one would have to purchase the jumbo size saucepans used in mass catering and on inquiry was told it would cost hundreds of pounds, which was well in excess of our budget. I then however realised we were talking about catering for no more than about twenty to twenty five people and just large ordinary household size saucepans were required. These cost only a fraction of the cost of the commercial size and we could thus afford them. We decided that we would buy just saucepans, cutlery and cups for meat and for milk. For plates, we would use disposables.
There was a shop in Liverpool which gave a discount to the King David Foundation and I went there to do the shopping. I picked out the saucepans and other utensils and also two cheapish sets of cutlery. When I went to the pay desk, I said that the shopping was for the King David Foundation and requested the usual discount. The saleswoman, a businesslike person, said that they didn’t discuss such things over the counter, but in the office.
The things were delivered to the King David High School and by Jewish law they required immersion in the Mikva. One of the Jewish Studies staff took me in his car with these utensils to the Mikva, which in those days was still in Croxteth Grove and there we immersed them.
To avoid any mix ups and also to stress to the pupils, the importance of keeping milk and meat separate, I decided that everything without exception would be clearly marked. One of the departments had an engraving machine and using this I engraved every piece of cutlery with the words “meat” or “milk.” I even had some glasses which I succeeded in engraving without their breaking. On the saucepans, I painted in different colours the words “meat” or “milk.” A few things such as an urn for boiling water were labelled “parev.”
We also intended setting up a Shul in the place. We therefore needed an Aron Hakodesh for a Sefer Torah. The Headmaster asked the woodwork teacher to build us such an Aron Hakodesh and I gave him the specifications. One of the Jewish craft teachers at the school, made a curtain for the ark. For some reason, she made it for the inside of the ark, and since the ark was a small one, it made it a little difficult to open the curtain. At first I thought we would have to make legs to stand the Aron Hakodesh on, but when I learned that there was no shortage of tables in the mansion, we dispensed with the base. The woodwork teacher made a beautiful job of the ark and in addition it was made so that it could easily be taken to pieces for storage.
The kitchen of the mansion would require kashering before we could use it and it was absolutely essential to see the kitchen beforehand in order to plan how to kasher it. One could not leave something as important as this to when we actually arrived. I therefore made it clear to the Headmaster that I had to take a day and go to see the place. Since I could not drive, I would have to take Zvi Yahalom as my driver. At first the headmaster argued that he couldn’t afford to have two staff away on the same day, saying that there are teachers who were ill and all sorts of other excuses. “Let Mr. Yahalom go alone,” he suggested. I said that I had to go otherwise I would have to cancel the entire seminar. Finally he agreed.
A few days later Zvi Yahalom drove me to Port Dinorwic. I had taken writing instruments, paper and measuring instruments to measure things in the kitchen. I was particularly worried about the stove. Would it be difficult to kasher?
When I saw the kitchen, I gave a sigh of relief. I saw that it would not be too difficult to kasher. It was L-shaped and at each end was a stainless steel sink. One side of the L, together with the sink, would be for meat and the other side with its sink for milk. The electric stove did not look too difficult to kasher. A thorough cleaning of the top, burning it out and covering it with aluminium foil would be sufficient. An oven is much more difficult to kasher and I decided that we would not use it. Boiling water would be poured over the stainless steel draining boards and sinks. As far as I remember, I may have also covered them. Unfortunately the refrigerator was only a household one with a smallish freezer. This would also have to be cleaned out. There were cupboards under the draining boards and all the mansion’s crockery would be put in these cupboards which would then be tied closed. The tables in the dining room were formica. They would be thoroughly cleaned and when we had meat meals we would put tablecloths over them. I took all the necessary measurements.
I also looked at the bedrooms to see how many beds there were in each, in order that the boys themselves could choose who would be in each room. I also chose three bedrooms for the members of staff who would be accompanying the boys.
I then went to see the person in charge of the mansion who lived nearby. There would be no point in bringing certain foods from Liverpool. These were eggs, milk and possibly, although I cannot clearly remember, potatoes. Since the Jewish community in Liverpool used unsupervised milk, I decided we could use it at our seminar. Incidentally, when we received the information sheets from the mansion, it said that one could obtain milk from the nearby farmer. This would have been an ideal opportunity to show the pupils how one supervises milk. Unfortunately this paragraph had been crossed out on the information sheet and when I inquired I was told that this farmer was no longer there. All during our conversation, the person in charge kept going on about the local butcher! I also asked him about the medical services in the area. Where was the nearest doctor? Where was the nearest hospital? Finally I asked him for the services of a woman who would come in for payment, and clean and also do other services such as peeling potatoes.
After I had finished viewing and examining the mansion, we went on to Bangor. I wanted to investigate whether there were any suitable films at the local cinema during the days we would be there. I found that there were.
We then returned to Liverpool and continued with our planning. The pupils had registered and we had about 20. Together with the three teachers we had to cater for about 25 people. Two of the pupils told me that their parents could not afford to pay the entire amount and I requested assistance from the Merseyside Jewish Welfare Council, which was granted. The Secretary who was in charge, asked me the names of the pupils concerned. I was rather annoyed at this. I felt that my discretion was sufficient in this matter and there was no reason for the names of such pupils to be bandied about around the Welfare Council offices. I had asked for five pounds for each pupil. Unintentionally, the school secretary had worded this request ambiguously - she had asked for ten pounds for two pupils. The Council thought she wanted ten pounds for each pupil and sent a total of twenty pounds! For the following seminar we did not have to ask for these two boys - we had the money in hand!
Now that we knew the number of people who would come to the seminar, we could start planning the amount of food to purchase. I sat down with Michael Rothbard and worked out the menus. We then estimated how much each person would eat of each item and thus were able to make a food shopping list. Other items such as paper plates and cups, aluminium foil and plastic table cloths would also have be added to our shopping list.
I decided that the meat would be Kedassia cooked sliced meats, which were sold by one of the local butchers. Bread and cake were ordered from Chalkins, the local Kosher baker and we asked that all the bread be sliced. Most of the other products we bought from the supermarket, carefully checking that everything was under Rabbinical supervision or Rabbinically approved. I remember at that period there was a shortage of sugar and the supermarket had a notice that a person could only buy one packet. However, when they saw our big order they let us buy more. As the food was delivered to the school, it was stored in my study and the perishables in the freezer of the cookery department. I telephoned the person in charge of the mansion and ordered eggs, milk and (maybe) potatoes and also asked him to arrange for the cleaner.
Another point to take care of was insurance. We were taking a lot of school equipment and also a Sefer Torah, which was a very valuable item. We also had to insure against accident to a pupil during the seminar.
Since we would be there for the last night of Chanukah, I asked the Lubavitch to provide us with Chanukiot for each pupil which they did and we bought an appropriate number of Chanukah candles.
We sent out a letter to each of the participants telling them what to bring such as spare clothes, Tephillin, Siddur, and a sheet sleeping bag. Since the mansion provided blankets there was no need to bring them. We also let the parents know, that whilst hoping we would not need them, there was a doctor and hospitals nearby. We also brought out a detailed almost hour by hour timetable of events from rising in the morning to going to bed each night.
We ordered a coach from Liverpool to take us to Port Dinorwic on the Sunday and to bring us back on the Wednesday. For activities in North Wales, we arranged for a local coach company.
I took a certain amount of school money to pay for local expenses and a few signed school cheques in case we ran out of money.
Port Dinorwic is next to the town of Bangor. A very tiny Jewish community in Bangor was listed in one of the Jewish information books under the leadership of a I. Pollecoff. I thought it would be nice to invite him to visit our seminar. I accordingly telephoned his house. A woman answered the telephone and when I asked to speak to Mr. Pollecoff, she effectively refused. That put an end to this idea. Afterwards I understood from someone that she was the housekeeper and was rather difficult.
We arranged to leave Liverpool towards the end of the Sunday morning. Since the length of the journey was several hours, it would be necessary to eat lunch on the journey. For this purpose Michael Rothbard and myself prepared sandwiches for all the participants on the previous evening. We also filled a number of big bottles with water to enable everybody to do netillat yadayim before eating their sandwiches.
On the Sunday morning, we loaded everything onto the coach. Since it was half empty, we put many of the things inside the coach itself rather than in the luggage compartment. Michael Rothbard was worried that the meat might go off on the journey. But in fact there was nothing to worry about since it was an English December day! We checked that all the pupils had arrived. All did, except one from the second year, who withdrew at the last moment. Then off we went.
I had collated all the information connected with the seminar in an exercise book, including the names and telephone numbers of all the participants. On the coach, I informed all the pupils, that in case of need, all relevant information on the seminar was to be found in the exercise book.
We left Liverpool, went through the Mersey tunnel and then on our way to North Wales. In the middle of the journey we stopped for lunch. All the pupils did netillat yadayim, and ate the sandwiches and we then recited birchat hamazon.
When we arrived at Port Dinorwic, a problem arose which we had not anticipated. The roads in this rural area of North Wales were very narrow indeed - so much so that they were even too narrow for the coach to navigate. After investigating several alternatives, we came to the conclusion that the coach would not be able to approach the mansion. We therefore had to unload about a quarter of a mile from the mansion.
I went to the house of the mansion’s supervisor, got the key and opened up. I immediately took the Sefer Torah into the mansion and put it on a table. I then organised a “human chain” extending from the place where the coach had stopped until the entrance to the mansion. Everybody then passed case after case, crate after crate to the next person in the “human chain.” Thus everything reached the mansion safely. The food which we had ordered locally had already been delivered there.
Our first task was kashering the kitchen. I had all the pupils participate in this, since, in addition to being a necessity, it was also an educational exercise. Everyone has to kasher their own kitchens once a year - in preparation for Pesach. In fact the methods used for kashering a kitchen for Pesach are even more severe than kashering a completely treife kitchen for non-Pesach use! I myself changed into very old working clothes which I had brought specially for this purpose. I even remember that there were holes in the elbows of the old jumper I had brought. I allocated various tasks to each of the pupils and we began work. The most crucial part in kashering a kitchen is the stove and I therefore took this job upon myself. I scrubbed the top and sides and then turned on the heat to maximum and left it on for a couple of hours. The sinks and draining board were thoroughly cleaned and boiling water poured over them. The refrigerator as well as the tables in the dining room were also thoroughly cleaned. Any crockery belonging to the mansion and food left by previous groups were put away in the cupboards and the cupboards tied up.
Having finished kashering the kitchens we set up the Shul in one of the lounges. The ark was stood on one of the tables and the Sefer Torah was put in it. We had brought a “shtender” [lectern] from the King David High School for the Shliach Tzibur and a table was put in the centre of the Shul for reading the Torah. We then davened Minchah in our Shul and got ready to light Chanukah candles.
It was the last night of Chanukah and we distributed a Chanukiah and 9 candles to each pupil. I had brought my oil Chanukiah and a small bottle of olive oil. Soon there was a mass of lights of Chanukah candles in the room. I wonder if Chanukah candles had ever been lit before in Port Dinorwic!
One candle fell out of someone’s Chanukiah and burnt a small hole in the formica on one of the tables. When on completion of our stay at the mansion, we had to complete a form which included any damage we had caused, I did not try and pass over this damage but included it in my report and expressed regret for this damage. They answered that accidents can happen and they did not charge us for it.
We did have evening programmes but after all these years I cannot remember what we did. Zvi Yahalom took some pupils out on a night exercise. The programme we had distributed to the pupils ended each day with “lights out” at a specific time. One of the pupils said to me that this was done for the benefit of the parents. Indeed this was the case in practice. After lights out, the pupils would start running around the corridors throwing water bombs at each other. They even tried to barge into the rooms in which the staff were sleeping. I soon learned the remedy - to put my bed against the door to make it very difficult for them to enter!
Morning came and it was time for the pupils to rise. Zvi Yahalom was the expert in getting them out of bed. The first thing in the morning programme was Shacharit. Our first morning service was that of the eighth day of Chanukah. As is customary we lit the Chanukiah, which had been placed by the south wall of the Synagogue, before the service (without a berachah, of course). This was the only day of our seminar when there was reading from the Torah. One of the pupils read the first two portions and the third one which was very long, I read. After a short Shiur the pupils went to breakfast.
When we came to heat water in the urn we had purchased, we discovered to our sorrow that a piece was missing from the tap, making it impossible to use it. Michael Rothbard wanted us to kasher the urn belonging to the mansion. Even though it was possible to do this, I said no. We would not use any crockery of the mansion. We would find some other solution to heat water, which we did.
I had arranged a rota for pupils to lay the tables and wash up after the meal. Apart from their serving the community by this work, there was also an additional educational objective - to know which sink to use, to know where to return the crockery etc. - an exercise in the complete separation of milk and meat. On one occasion I caught a pupil washing up something in the wrong sink, and I made him wash everything up again in the right sink.
Netillat yadayim, berachot and birchat hamazon were fully integrated into the meals. It was a real pleasure to hear the pupils singing the entire birchat hamazon with great enthusiasm They even established a tradition for these seminars - singing “Harachamon” to a tune of Adon Olam.
The morning programme consisted of a number of Shiurim. Each of the staff members gave a Shiur on a different subject. I don’t remember what the subjects were. I do know that I used a slide projector which I had brought with me and the subject of my Shiurim may well have been an introduction to Eruvin.
Dinner, which every day was a meat meal, followed the Shiurim. On the second day that we were there, the electric stove, which was pretty ancient, stopped working. We summoned a technician, but in the meanwhile, we had to prepare the day’s dinner. Michael Rothbard found a way to improvise, without having to cook on the stove. I went into the dining hall to apologise to the pupils, but they answered me that it was the best meal they had had. One can never tell with pupils!
On the afternoon of the first day, we took a coach to Bangor to see a film. As I already stated, I had a few weeks earlier checked on a film which would be suitable for the pupils. I seem to remember that it dealt with horses.
On the afternoon of the second day, I arranged an outing to the Isle of Anglesey. This is a county of Wales separated from the main land by the Menai Straits. We went to visit Beaumaris Castle, made a tour of the island and on the way back visited the village world famous only because of its 58 letter name - Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. The platform of the railway station was open to the public although the ticket office was closed. One could however buy a jumbo size platform ticket with the name of the village printed in full on it, in a local shop. I still to this day have the ticket I bought that day, although I doubt if I could still use it. It was “available one hour on day of issue only.” Actually there was no date on it and the price was still given in old pennies, even though decimal currency was already in operation in England! I asked if I posted a letter from there, would it have the full name on the postmark but I was told that they only printed Llanfair P.G.
All good things come to an end and the following day was the day we returned to Liverpool. We cleaned up the kitchen, paid the cleaner, left some of the excess food in the mansion and distributed some of the other perishables to the pupils. One large unopened tin of fruit we kept for a possible future seminar. When we got back to Liverpool, I wrote a report on the seminar for the school authorities.
The pupils really enjoyed and benefited religiously and educationally from the seminar. We therefore decided to make a further seminar in the same location that summer, and to include a Shabbat. Most of the pupils who went did not know what a proper traditional Shabbat was, and thus going for Shabbat would open their eyes to the beauty of Shabbat.
I therefore booked this mansion for a week before Shavuot, from the Wednesday to the Sunday. I was sure that Michael Rothbard and Zvi Yahalom would be happy to again accompany the pupils. But then I got a big disappointment. Neither wanted to leave their families for Shabbat. As I said at the time, that I also don’t like to leave my family for Shabbat, but sometimes one needs to make sacrifices for the sake of one’s pupils. But no amount of persuasion could make them change their minds. Zvi Yahalom started to make excuses - Shabbat would be out late since it was in the summer and the pupils would be waiting for it to end….
I could not decide what to do - cancel it completely or, change the dates so as not to include Shabbat. With either of these ideas, the losers would be the pupils.
Ironically, an unfortunate accident solved the problem. Michael Rothbard’s wife had given birth to a girl and as is customary, he was to make a Kiddush on Shabbat. Whilst he was preparing the Kiddush that Shabbat morning, a glass bowl broke in his hand and cut him so badly that he had to go to hospital. For several months he was out of circulation and he would not have been able to go to the seminar even for weekdays. This led me to the conclusion - look elsewhere for help. I spoke to Rabbi Chaim Farro of the Manchester Lubavitch and explained my problem. He promised to send somebody to Port Dinorwic for Shabbat. I also asked Jeremy Learman, who was an old boy of the school if he could come for Shabbat, which he agreed to. The staffing was thus: myself - the entire seminar, Zvi Yahalom - Wednesday till Friday, the Lubavitcher and Jeremy Learman - Friday till Sunday. With the staffing arranged, I could then proceed with the arrangements.
Because the seminar was to include Shabbat, it would be necessary to purchase certain additional items of crockery. Since on Shabbat, one needed whole loaves of bread, one required bread boards and bread knives. One also required asbestos mats to cover the hobs on the electric stove during Shabbat. We had also found from our previous seminar that a few other purchases of crockery were required. We made these necessary purchases and where required took them to immerse in the Mikva.
We had sent the urn for repair and it came back repaired together with a bill to pay. I pointed that since when we bought it, it was broken, we weren’t required to pay anything, which was readily accepted.
Almost all the pupils who attended our first seminar registered for the second and a few others who had not gone decided to join. The number of pupils was thus about the same.
We worked out what food we required for our weekday and Shabbat meals and made the necessary purchases. I decided that for Shabbat morning we would daven Shacharit up to Reading the Torah, then have a nice big Kiddush and then continue with the service. The Kiddush would include various spreads on crackers and also smoked salmon. In addition to prepared Kedassia sliced meats for our weekday and Shabbat meals, we bought a roll of Kedassia meat to put in the cholent. We also bought tinned liver paste in order to make chopped liver. As with our first seminar, we ordered our bread from Chalkins but in addition to the sliced bread we ordered challot for Shabbat. We were travelling on a Wednesday and so in order to try and keep the challot reasonably fresh till Shabbat, we wrapped them in aluminium foil. When the sliced bread arrived, we saw that it had been cut length-wise instead of the normal way of cutting bread, giving long slices of bread each about a foot long! We therefore cut each long slice into about three slices before wrapping them up. Even though Michael Rothbard was not able to come to the seminar at all, he helped with the food preparations and the ordering. When he ordered cakes from Chalkins, he seemed to have miscalculated the quantities and enough enormous size cakes arrived to feed an army. When I pointed this out to him, he contacted Chalkins, said he made a mistake and he was able to return many of them.
To save time at the seminar, we decided to do some of the cooking in Liverpool and take the food already cooked. We did the cooking at the Rothbard’s house. Since I was responsible for the kashrut of the seminar, even though I completely trusted the Rothbard’s kashrut, I insisted on being present when this cooking was being done.
We also had to take bottles of wine, Shabbat candles and candlesticks, a Havdalah candle, spices and white tablecloths.
The gabbaiim for the seminar arranged the distribution of leining, and who would be called up for each Aliyah.
Although the Headmaster would have preferred us to have left after school on that Wednesday, I pointed out to him that since we could not unload near the mansion, I wanted to leave a little earlier, to enable us after the arrival, unloading and kashering of the kitchen, to have time for an evening programme. He therefore agreed for us to leave at the afternoon break. During the course of that Wednesday we brought everything we needed for the seminar into the Bet David, which was near the school front door, and during the period prior to the break loaded everything onto the coach so that we could leave at the break time. We travelled in a coach from the Port Dinorwic area, since we had discovered that it was cheaper to order a coach from there than from a Liverpool firm. Zvi Yahalom, who was returning on Friday travelled later that day in his own car.
Several hours later we arrived in Port Dinorwic and unloaded as on the previous occasion.
When we entered the kitchen, we saw a gas stove which seemed newish. I could not be sure that we were the first users and so we did the entire process of kashering it. Later on we learned that we were in fact the second users of it.
We set up the Synagogue. Unlike the previous seminar when we only read the Torah on one occasion, this time we would be reading it 4 times - Thursday morning, Shabbat morning, Shabbat afternoon and Sunday morning which was Rosh Chodesh. That first night after lights out, the pupils began with their water bombs, but with more disastrous results - they succeeded in breaking a window with one of them. I was furious and I made it quite clear the following morning that they themselves would pay for the replacement window and there would be no more water bombs during that entire seminar.
I had previously made inquiries as to the films showing at the local cinema - but they were all unsuitable - even for adults, let alone children. There was therefore no visit to the cinema. That Thursday afternoon we took a coach and went to Caernarvon. On the road signposts, one could clearly see that the letter “v” in Caernarvon had been changed to the letter “f,” thus spelling it Caernarfon, which is the Welsh spelling. We visited the castle. This is the castle where the investiture of the Prince of Wales takes place and there were photographs there showing the previous investiture which had taken place just a few years earlier.
The cleaner told me that she been asked by the local neighbours whether the mansion was empty, since it was so quiet. She said that a previous group had spread all the toilet paper outside. She had told the neighbours that Rabbi Simons’ group was there. I felt that this was a great compliment to our pupils and a Kiddush Hashem.
That Friday was 28 Iyar, which is Jerusalem Liberation Day and our Shiurim were devoted to the subject of Jerusalem. In the early afternoon, Zvi Yahalom returned to Liverpool and until our two helpers arrived later that day, I was alone at the mercy of the pupils! I had prepared an initiative test for the Friday afternoon which I had had duplicated in the school. It consisted of two parts - the first was questions relating to the area of Port Dinorwic, such as “what is the name of the local farmer,” and the second part the collection of various objects from the area. One of them was “a daisy chain.” I remember this because one of the pupils returned with daisies joined together with sellotape and I told him this was not the way to make a daisy chain. The cleaner came to me and asked me why the pupils were asking her all sorts of questions about the area.
Whilst the pupils were out on this initiative test, I was busy in the kitchen preparing the food for Shabbat. I mixed liver paste with chopped eggs to make chopped liver and I made cholent of “some sort.” I had never made cholent before - my wife always does that and I didn’t realise the beans would expand to such an extent when cooked. In order to make room for the meat, I had to remove some of the beans! The cholent was not a success and the pupils barely touched it! But there was plenty other food and they did not go hungry! As is traditional, on Friday night there was both fish and meat.
The mansion had both table-tennis and chess sets. I did not prevent the pupils from using them on Shabbat but I told them that it was not in the spirit of Shabbat to spend all the day on them. Before Shabbat I decided which lights I would leave on and which lights would be off and I sellotaped them accordingly. The hobs of the electric stove were covered with asbestos mats.
During Friday afternoon Jeremy Learman arrived and just before Shabbat the Lubavitcher.
Just before 8.30 in the evening, we davened Minchah and then representatives of the pupils lit Shabbat candles. The Kabbalat Shabbat service began with the singing of Yedid Nefesh as was customary in the Liverpool Youth Minyan. Following the service we made Kiddush and had our Shabbat meal.
When arranging the rota for Shabbat, I said that any pupil who got up early on Shabbat morning to help prepare the Kiddush, would be exempt from other kitchen activities that Shabbat. I had a few volunteers for this. After Shacharit, we had our “luxury Kiddush” and then continued with the service. We then had our Shabbat dinner where amongst many other foods, the unpopular cholent appeared on the table. I had planned that we would go for a walk after dinner but, although it was May, the weather was so wintry, that I abandoned this idea.
I had also planned that the pupils would have two formal Shiurim that Shabbat afternoon. However the Lubavitcher suggested to me that instead we should all sit in a large circle and he would conduct an informal educational activity instead. This we did.
After Minchah we had Seudah Shlishit. The date was 29 Iyar and this was the day that Hebron, City of the Patriarchs, had been liberated in 1967. As I wrote at the beginning of this book, I was one of the Hebron pioneers who had lived in the Military Compound in Hebron from 1968 to 1971. I accordingly gave a talk on life in the Military Compound during these years. In fact it wasn’t until about an hour after Shabbat that we davened Ma’ariv and made Havdalah. So much for Zvi Yahalom’s comment that the day would be so long and that we would be counting the minutes until the end of Shabbat! After Shabbat, I went round giving out cake for our Melave Malka.
The following morning after the Rosh Chodesh Sivan davening, I gave a short Shiur that according to the Vilna Gaon one begins learning about Shavuot on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The Lubavitcher wanted to take some of the pupils out on a short outing. Here I vetoed the idea. We had to clear up the place and it would not be fair for some of the pupils to be on an outing whilst others were cleaning up. I recollect we had particular trouble in getting the aluminium foil off the new electric stove and I remember Jeremy Learman working hard at this.
The coach arrived to return us to Liverpool and we took all our belongings to the coach. I had the pupils put their cases in the luggage compartment of the coach which was then locked. The belongings of the school were put inside the coach. The reason that I did this, was that I did not want a situation, when on arriving in Liverpool, the pupils would grab their own cases and run off, leaving me to unload all the school things.
When we arrived back at the King David High School, I asked the pupils to help carry things back into the school and told them that after that we would open the luggage compartment of the coach. This the pupils did with the help of some parents who had come to meet them.
To sum up, the pupils really enjoyed the seminar and it was very beneficial educationally. I am sure that for some of the pupils, it was the first real Shabbat that they had experienced. I wanted to organise further seminars, but for various reasons beyond my control, this unfortunately never materialised.
However that December, I arranged to take a small group of pupils to a Lubavitcher winter camp, lasting about five days, held in Manchester. The pupils were put up in private houses of Lubavitchers living in Manchester. My family was put up by Rabbi Farro in his house. The parents of one of the boys who went with me were members of the Progressive Congregation of Liverpool. I had checked that he was in fact Jewish. His parents had been married at Childwall Synagogue and for some reason had changed to the Progressives. However I was very happy to see that they let him go for this Lubavitch winter seminar.
On one of the evenings, the programme at this camp was a film. The next morning was devoted to testing the participants on Mishnayot. I was asked to be one of the examiners. I said that I would concentrate on examining the pupil’s understanding of the Mishnah rather than on his being able to recite it by heart. Some of the participants were experts in Mishnayot, having learned them for years. Others knew very little or even none, and the examiners taught such pupils a few Mishnayot. Most of those who came from Liverpool were in the latter category and I asked, that in order to encourage them, we should award a prize to one of those who managed to learn some Mishnayot. We also had one of our more learned pupils who participated and he won a prize.
That evening there was a Siyum Mishnayot. The guest of honour was Rabbi Yitzchok Dubow who addressed all the participants. One of the pupils finished off the last Mishnah of the Six Orders of the Mishnah. A dinner then followed.
The following evening was Shabbat. After Minchah, the congregation split into three groups. One group had a Shiur on the Sichot of the Rebbe of Lubavitch on the week’s Parashah given in English, another group had the same Sicha given in Yiddish, whilst the third group davened Kabbalat Shabbat straight away. On that Friday night, the pupils at the camp ate at the homes of their hosts. On the following morning, everyone ate together in the Lubavitch House. One might mention here that unlike other Chassidic groups, the Lubavitch do not wear shtreimels on Shabbat. They also do not grow peyot.
The Lubavitch make a big meal for Melave Malka and a number of families have it together, presumably on a rotation basis. That Motozei Shabbat I accompanied Rabbi Farro to a Melave Malka at one of his friend’s houses. On the following day the camp ended and I returned with the pupils to Liverpool.