Although I went to Liverpool to be Director of Jewish Studies, I was not employed for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I took part in a strictly honorary capacity, in other Jewish activities in the city. I also had to live my life with my family in a city not strong in its Jewish observance.
On arriving in Liverpool, I decided to purchase a house. I asked Henry Lachs whether there was a particular area of the city where the more observant Jews of Liverpool lived and he told me there wasn’t. The greatest concentration of Jews lived in Childwall and this was followed by Allerton. Since the school was in Childwall and I cannot drive a car, I decided to seek a house in Childwall. At the beginning of 1972 it was a sellers’ market and there were very few houses to choose from. I was recommended to employ the solicitor who was a gabbai at the Childwall Synagogue. He told me that in view of the state of the housing market at that period, as soon as one saw a house one liked, speed was of the essence. One of the potential houses I saw belonged to the parents of one of the school pupils and I remember that the woman of the house was more concerned in telling me which of her furniture would go with the house than the details of the actual house! Another house I viewed was next door to the house of the Headmaster of the Primary School but this fell through when I heard that the wood was infested.
Finally we saw a four bedroomed house in Childwall Valley Road, about seven minutes walk from the school. The downstairs consisted of a large dining room, a smaller size lounge, a morning room and a kitchen. There was also a garage, and rather unusually, a door from the hall which led into the garage. We liked this house, put in an offer, agreed on a price, had the house surveyed and had a contract drawn up. The only point which I didn’t like was that we would have to wait until the end of May to take possession. It was on one Shabbat that the solicitor came up to me in Shul and said, “Shabbos nicht gereden [we don’t talk about this on Shabbat] but to put your mind at rest, the sellers have now signed the contract of sale.”
Like many other properties in Liverpool, the house was not freehold but was on a 999 year lease. This lease dated from 1935, about 15 years before the house was built. The free-holder (or, at least, the original one, was Lord Salisbury). There was a ground rent of just over five pounds a year. In 1935, it was a reasonable sum. However by the 1970s it had greatly depreciated. So much so, that it probably cost more to collect this ground rent than it was worth. Whilst I was in Liverpool, the agent for the freeholder tried to sell me the freehold, first for a hundred pounds and later for seventy-five pounds. I consulted with my solicitor, but he said it was not worth buying. The difference between holding the freehold or the leasehold was academic.
Towards the end of May, I went shopping with my wife to the centre of Liverpool to buy furniture for the dining room and bedrooms and kitchen appliances such as a refrigerator, gas cooker and washing machine. At a slightly later date we bought a lounge suite from a member of Childwall Shul who ran a furniture shop.
Just before the date of our removal, the Headmaster asked me whether I would be taking the day of my removal off school. I answered that I would not take the day off, since I did not feel it would be right for pupils to miss out on lessons just because I was moving house. My wife managed to cope perfectly well with the removers and after I returned home from school that day, I affixed the Mezuzot and helped get the new house organised.
One does not finish furnishing a house in a few days or even months. A few months after we had moved in but had not yet carpeted the house, Rabbi Turk, the Rabbi of Childwall Synagogue, told us that one of his congregants had seen that our house was not yet carpeted and asked him, “Why isn’t Rabbi Simons’ house carpeted? Maybe he can’t afford to and we should help him.” My wife jokingly said to me that he should have said that that was the reason and they would then have provided the carpets! Soon after, we purchased carpets from the shop of a member of Childwall Shul.
The house was not centrally heated and a few years later we had central heating installed. What a difference it made our comfort.
I stated above that I had rejected one potential house because of wood infestation. Well it seems that wood problems ran after me in Liverpool. A few years after I had been living in my house, I suddenly saw fungi growing out of the staircase. I contacted a national company dealing with this problem. They came to my house and made an inspection and I arranged for them to do the necessary work which included putting in a completely new staircase.
This company then used the psychological moment to try and sell insurance against wood infestation for the remainder of the house. I said “Once bitten, twice shy,” immediately filled up a form and paid the first premium.
About a week later they came to replace the wood infested by dry rot. As soon as they began, they saw that the infestation was more than they had originally noticed and demanded an additional payment to cover the extra work. “But I am now covered by your insurance,” I told them. They realised that they had “dropped a clanger” and their manager came to my house to speak to me. He tried all kinds of arguments. “We have not yet deposited your cheque in the Bank,” he said. I pointed out that they had had ample time to do so. Then he said “Supposing we had discovered this further infestation before you took out insurance!” This statement didn’t even merit an answer. I had spoken to my solicitor about this problem and he told me that legally they could refuse to do this work for nothing because at the time I took out insurance, the infestation was already there. However they would look silly and I should try to come to an arrangement with them. Finally they paid over three quarters of the cost of this extra work.
During the period we lived in this house, there was a change over to natural gas in England and the gas company went round the country taking people’s gas stoves and other gas appliances to pieces and adapting them for natural gas. Our turn was during Chol Hamoed Sukkot. I remember saying, “Thank Heavens they didn’t do this on Chol Hamoed Pesach. All I am short of is for people to be messing around in the kitchen, particularly with the gas stove, during Pesach.” In contrast, on one Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach, there was a gale which blew down a back-garden fence between us and our neighbour. This meant that we were not permitted to carry in our back garden that Shabbat. I remember saying, “Thank Heavens this didn’t happen on a Shabbat during Sukkot. There would then have been great problems regarding the taking of food and utensils into the Sukkah.”
Relatives would sometimes come and visit us in Liverpool. After one visit by my wife’s parents, they were due to return to Birmingham by coach. We ordered a taxi to take them to the coach, but the taxi took a long time in coming and there was thus a great risk that they would miss the coach. One member of the family then telephoned the coach office, told them what had happened and asked them to wait. “We cannot hold the coach up,” they replied. “I don’t want you to hold up the coach; just don’t go without them!” the family member replied. My parents-in-law told me afterwards that not only did the coach wait, but when they reached it they were treated like royalty, “Good afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Abrahams, let us take your baggage.”
When one is living in an area which is generally non-observant, there are greater problems in observing Mitzvot than when one lives in a “Religious area.” This is especially felt after living for a number of years in Israel.
One day to day problem was whether it would be possible to get food with the standard of kashrut to which one was used? As soon as I arrived in Liverpool, I contacted Rabbi Rogosnitzky, who was responsible for the kashrut in Liverpool and asked him to tell me confidentially which of the seven kosher butchers, which were then in Liverpool, he considered to be the most reliable. [I understand that today there are no Kosher butchers in Liverpool and the meat and poultry has to be brought in from outside.] Later we learned that Frohweins, the London Kedassia butcher had an agent in Manchester, and they would deliver Frohwein’s meat products and other frozen Kosher groceries to Liverpool. We then regularly put in an order with them.
Another essential commodity is fresh bread products. In Liverpool there was the Chalkin bakery, which was situated almost across the road from the offices of the Shechita Board. I heard that Chalkins could not have a formal kashrut license, since in the long summer days, they would start warming up the ovens before the end of Shabbat. However, Rabbi Rogosnitzky told me that he was always going in and checking on the kashrut of Chalkins. We were told that you could buy bread there, except on Sundays!
I myself was in a quandary on this bread question. On the one hand Chalkin’s bread which was not under official supervision was sold in a number of Jewish grocer shops which closed on Shabbat. On the other hand, a Jewish grocer shop which did not close on Shabbat, sold bread from Broughton Bakeries, which was under the supervision of the Manchester Beth Din. Which was it preferable to purchase? Rabbi Rogosnitzky told me to buy Chalkin’s bread. When he left Liverpool and Rabbi Margulies took over, he told me the opposite - buy from the shop which sells Broughton bread. The question was finally solved to my satisfaction towards the end of my term in Liverpool. A small Kollel had been established and obviously those studying there adhered to a higher standard of kashrut than the general community. It was therefore arranged to bring in bread in bulk from Manchester from the Machzikei Hadass bakery. I had already purchased a deep freezer in which I stored the various meat and other products delivered by Frohwein’s agent and I then also used it for the bread which I bought in bulk.
There was no Jewish fishmonger in Liverpool. The local fishmonger also sold non-Kosher fish and also rabbits. We therefore gave strict instructions to the fishmonger not to do anything with the fish we bought. One year, we ordered our fish for Pesach, and it was delivered as usual to our house. When on erev Pesach, my wife opened the package, she found to her horror, that they had opened the fish and even chopped up one of them. If during the year we would not allow them to touch our fish, how much more so for Pesach. She immediately telephoned them and they said that they had made a mistake and they straight away changed the fish for what we wanted.
Whilst on the fishy subject, a potential problem arose regarding tinned sardines. When I first came to Liverpool, it was clearly stated on the tins that the fish were in olive oil. Suddenly the wording was changed to edible oil and there was concern that the oil might be from whales or a non-Kosher fish. However investigation showed that the oil then used was soya oil.
Another problem was supervised milk. There was none available in Liverpool and almost everybody in Liverpool relied on the opinion of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that one can be lenient when there is state supervision on the milk. I myself, who was used to drinking supervised milk, would use kosher milk powder. I would let my children and also my wife, when she was pregnant or suckling use ordinary milk. When I came to Liverpool, I asked the dairy in Manchester supplying supervised milk if they could make an arrangement to supply it to a Liverpool dairy. They wrote me a very nice apologetic letter regretting they were unable to do so. When the Kollel arrived in Liverpool this problem was also solved and every week, or even more frequently, supervised milk was brought from Manchester.
For Pesach there was locally supervised milk. Rev. Stanley Cohen, an assistant Minister at Allerton synagogue would go to a Liverpool dairy and supervise milk for Pesach. However one year just a few weeks before Pesach, the dairy informed the Shechita Board that they would not be able to supply it that year. The Shechita Board did not have a solution. I therefore took the matter in hand and contacted the various Shuls in Liverpool telling them of the problem, and asking them how many bottles their members required since we would try to arrange to get it from Manchester. When some of the lay leaders heard of this problem, they arranged for Kosher for Pesach milk to be brought from Southport.