I was in Liverpool for nearly 7 years and so I observed each of the Festivals there 6 or 7 times. Looking back after all these years, certain events stick in my memory regarding the Festivals, which I shall now relate. They are not in chronological order.
I shall begin with Pesach, the Festival which requires the most preparation. The first year we were still temporarily in Crondall Grove, which was not an easy place to clean. Our problems were compounded by my not being well. On the Shabbat before Pesach - Pesach that year began on Thursday - I start having terrible pains in my mouth. By the following day I was in agony and rushed to the hospital. Since it was a Sunday they did not bother to examine me properly. They sat me on an ordinary chair, looked in my mouth, said that nothing was wrong and sent me home. The pains got even worse and that evening I went to my local doctor who gave me a prescription for pain killers. Since it was Sunday, I had to go to the other side of Liverpool to find a chemist who was open. By the following day my mouth was so swollen that I returned to the hospital. This time they saw it was serious. They took an X-ray, told me I had a cyst in the gum and lanced it to relieve the pressure. When I asked them why on the previous day they had said nothing was wrong, they glibly answered that they had made a mistake. Had they examined me properly on the Sunday, they would have ascertained what was wrong. In Jewish law, which has very strict Sabbath prohibitions, it would have been mandatory to desecrate the Sabbath to find out what was wrong with my mouth.
My mouth was so swollen that I was unable to eat and even drinking was difficult. They gave me some antibiotics and it was very difficult to swallow even them. I had to crush them up. And all the time the clock was ticking away the days before Pesach. Normally I would help my wife in the Pesach preparations. With my medical problems, she had the extra jobs of telephoning doctors, chemists and the hospital. When Henry Lachs heard about my indisposition, he jokingly said to me, that the School would not allow me to be ill during term time!
Our problems for that Pesach did not end with that. A few weeks earlier we had asked the Lachs where they recommended we get our Pesach groceries. They told us that they ordered them from the grocers Breuer & Spitzer in London, who sent them by carriers. We put in a big order with this London grocer, but one of the boxes failed to arrive. We were in constant contact with the grocer and the carriers but they could not track it down. We made contingency plans should this package not arrive. The London grocers sent us a replacement which arrived on erev Pesach. Months later, the original package was found by the carriers!
My indisposition put us behind schedule for Pesach. Fortunately my parents-in-law came for Pesach and they were up working for most of the night of erev Pesach. In those days one salted one’s meat at home. My father in law covered the floor well with paper, salted the meat just before he finally went to bed and left it there until the morning.
As I stated above, at that period my mouth was so swollen that I couldn’t swallow solid food. How then would I keep the Mitzvah of eating Matzah on the Seder nights? I therefore soaked machine baked Matzot in water for several hours and then made some semi-liquid mush of them. With some difficulty I succeeded in swallowing this mush.
I specifically said “machine baked Matzot” since I was accustomed to eat only hand baked Matzot at the Seder, A few weeks earlier, I had gone specially to Manchester to collect hand baked Matzot, which had been sent from Israel and were being sold in Manchester. Incidentally, whilst I was there I met the pupils of the Liverpool Yeshivah with their Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Rogosnitzky, who had gone to Manchester to observe the local hand-baking of Matzot at the Machzikei Hadass bakeries. The reason I soaked machine baked rather than hand baked Matzot that year was that machine baked are softer.
The amount of Kedassia Matzot, especially Shemura Matzot was always limited. One year there was some mishap with the Shemura Matzot and they severely rationed everybody. They had asked Rabbi Dunner of the Kedassia and he had ruled that everybody would have to take a decrease of, (I think it was a quarter), of his order. Since I eat only Shemura throughout Pesach (except for the eighth day), I was really on diet that Pesach. One year my brother, who was studying in Yeshivah in Israel, notified us at almost the last moment that he would be coming to us for Pesach. Since he also only eats Shemura and it was too late to order any more, I told him to bring a box from Israel, which he did.
For the Festival of Sukkot, one builds a Sukkah. I had brought the poles of my Sukkah from Israel. The size of this Sukkah was two metres by three metres. I had to find a suitable location in my back garden to erect this Sukkah. When I made the necessary measurements in my garden, I discovered a serious problem. Between the back of the house and the start of the garden was about one and a half metres. The path before the garden was not flush with the grass. One had to go up a step of about 30 cms and after even after that the garden was on a slope. At the edge of this step there was a narrow concrete wall. I came to the conclusion that I would have to remove this concrete wall and level off the grass and the earth underneath it to the extent of half a metre. It was fortunate that I realised this well before the first Sukkot in Liverpool, since it took far more work and effort to do this than I had anticipated. But finally I succeeded and in doing so filled about three tea chests with the soil I had to remove.
Once upon a time everybody would cut down fresh greenery for the schach of their Sukkah. However already by the 1970s people were buying permanent schach usually made from woven branches. In order for it to be kasher, it has to have been made specially for schach. This was available in Manchester and I ordered it according to the size of my Sukkah.
One year I went to Manchester to collect my Arba’at Haminim and two sets for the school. I planned to use the opportunity to also bring back our large meat order for the Festival, which I had ordered from the Machzikei Hadass butcher in Manchester. My brother-in-law at the time lived in Manchester and I had asked him to collect it from the butcher and meet me in town. That day it poured with rain and when he met me, the cardboard carton containing the meat was falling apart because of the rain. Even without being already loaded with three sets of Arba’at Haminim, it would have been impossible to carry the meat in this carton to Liverpool.
We therefore went to his apartment, where he fortunately had a strong new garbage bag. I transferred the meat to this bag and together we went to Manchester railway station. My next problem was what I would do when I reached the station at Liverpool. But I need not have worried. When the train came to a stop, there was a luggage trolley (as if waiting specially for me!) right outside the door of my compartment. I loaded my packages on to it and wheeled it to the taxis. I took a taxi right up to my house and the taxi driver then most obligingly helped me carry all my packages to the front door. We thus safely had our meat and our Arba’at Haminim for Sukkot.
On my first Rosh Hashanah in Liverpool, I asked where the nearest river was for Tashlich. I was told to go to Calderstones Park which was “only a few minutes” walk away. I began walking and walking and walking - more than a few minutes! -until I came to this river. I said Tashlich and then rushed back to the Shul for Minchah and only arrived in the middle of the service.
In places such as the north of England, the summer days are very long. Night can be after eleven o’clock. On the first night of Shavuot, one cannot make Kiddush (or according to some opinions, even daven Ma’ariv) until it is dark. This makes the meal very late on Shavuot. But what about the second night of Shavuot? Does one again have to wait until dark? I asked Dayan Golditch, Head of the Manchester Beth Din, this question. He told me that one doesn’t have to wait until dark, although it is better to do so and he himself waits. I also decided to wait on the four years when the second day was not Shabbat. On the remaining three years when it was Shabbat, obviously one did not have to wait. Later I found that the Ben Ish Chai, Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, who lived between 1832 - 1904, wrote that one does not have to wait on the second night of Shavuot until nightfall. He adds that in places where there are a lot of mosquitoes due to the hot summer nights, it is better not to wait.
Another question which I had asked Dayan Golditch was the question of Tephillin on Chol Hamoed. Before I went to Israel, I had put on Tephillin on Chol Hamoed, as was the usual custom of the Jews in England, who followed the opinion of the Rema - Rabbi Moshe Isseles. In Israel, in accordance with the custom there, I had stopped. My question was, should I start putting them on again on Chol Hamoed. He answered that I should not lay Tephillin on Chol Hamoed and brought the Zohar in support. Dayan Krausz who was present said that he wished he could stop putting on Tephillin on Chol Hamoed!
The day I asked this question, I was participating in the Beth Din in a Chalitzah ceremony. The day before, Rabbi Solomon asked me if I would go with him to the Manchester Beth Din to participate in this ceremony for a woman who lived in Liverpool, and needed this Chalitzah to enable her to get married again. Before we went to Manchester, we sat down together in order to go over the laws of Chalitzah.
The way from my house to Childwall Shul passed a local pub. In the long summer days Shabbat went out after 11 o’clock at night, and when going to Ma’ariv at the end of the Shabbat, I would pass all the people leaving the pub which closed at this hour. Some of those leaving the pub could well be drunk and I was therefore always happy when I had successfully passed by this building.
One year during Chanukah, two Lubavitchers knocked on my door and asked whether we had any children. I said we had two daughters. They brought out two Chanukiot and said they should light candles each night. Although women are equally obligated to light Chanukah candles, and it is customary for each man in the house to light his own candles, it is not so clear regarding each girl in the house. The only source where I had specifically seen this mentioned was in the notes at the end of the Lubavitch Shulchan Aruch. This says that the girls in a family do not light their own candles. I therefore told these Lubavitchers that in their Shulchan Aruch it says that girls don’t light. They were a bit taken aback but soon rallied and said that the Rebbe said that this year was a special year.
The Shulchan Aruch brings a leniency regarding the wearing of leather shoes on the afternoon of Tisha B’Av if the non-Jews are likely to laugh at a Jew for wearing non-leather shoes. I never really understood this until I was in Liverpool. Some non-Jews saw my footwear and called after me: “Look a Yid with pumps” - (pumps is the word for cloth gym shoes.) The Prophet Zechariah writes that Tisha B’Av will in the future become a Festival. May this be speedily in our days.