When I arrived in Liverpool, I had one daughter aged just over a year. Our house which we bought in Childwall Valley Road had, as did many houses in England, wallpaper stuck on the walls. When this daughter was very young, she must have seen a loose edge of this paper and pulled off a big piece of wallpaper. She obviously realised she had done something wrong, since she came to us and said, “I tore off some wallpaper, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.” These are the three things that the Rambam says are necessary for Teshuvah – confession, regret and a commitment for the future. My daughter had never learnt the Rambam and it thus shows that the elements of Teshuvah are instinctive elements. Almost every year on Yom Kippur, I repeat this story in the Derashah I give in my Shul in Israel.
Another incident which comes to mind also happened when she was young. One Shabbat she came to us crying, “I accidentally turned on a light.” I was happy - not that she had turned on the light but that she was upset about it.
The following three children to be born were girls. At the time the fourth girl was born, we were just bringing out a Jewish Studies magazine in the school and the “Stop Press” said, “Mazel-Tov to Rabbi & Mrs. Simons on the birth of their fourth daughter - what another girl! They should change their name to Lachs.” The Lachs family had 4 children - all girls!
On one of the occasions when my wife was due to give birth, I was in the Bet David Minyan at the school. It was Rosh Chodesh and we were just about to start Hallel. Suddenly someone came into the Bet David and called me to the telephone. It was my wife telling me to come home immediately, as she was about to give birth. I ran back into the Bet David, took off my Tephillin and Tallit and ran out of the building, with the pupils calling after me “Mazel-Tov.” My wife got to the hospital in time.
In Liverpool, unlike other cities such as London, there are no facilities to provide people in hospital with kosher food. Accordingly, each time before my wife was due to give birth, she would prepare her own meals, put them in a disposable aluminium baking tray, seal them up and freeze them. When she went into hospital, I would take along a few each day and the hospital would be given instructions on the method to heat them up whilst still sealed in the aluminium baking tray.
For each of my three girls born in Liverpool, the family made a Kiddush in the house. On one occasion the guests had to plough through snow to get to the house and on another it was held in the Sukkah. The sun even obliged us that Sukkot by coming out of the clouds for about half an hour, just as we were having the Kiddush.
For one of these Kiddushim, my wife ordered kosher chopped herring from Manchester and the manufacturer sent it by post. Unfortunately it never arrived and so for the last thirty years or so, there has been a tub of chopped herring somewhere in the British postal system. Should it ever be found, I doubt if it will still be fit for eating. In China they have found a method to preserve eggs for centuries. I don’t know whether the Chinese can do the same thing for chopped herring.
At last, number five was a boy! He was born on the Shabbat before Purim and on Purim my wife was still in the hospital. In that hospital the maternity cases had their own private rooms. That year was a Jewish leap year and so Purim was late in the year and we were already on summer time. The earliest time to read the Megillah that Purim evening was 8.15. Since I was going to read the Megillah in the Liverpool Youth Minyan, I told the hospital that I would be arriving at about ten o’clock that evening to read the Megillah to my wife.
I read the Megillah that evening in the Youth Minyan to the accompaniment of much banging at Haman’s name. It thus took such a long time that when the Childwall Synagogue Minyan finished we were still in the course of reading. Rabbi Roberg came into our Minyan and called out that people were still fasting (from Ta’anit Esther) and we should hurry up. We finished reading at about 9.30. We provided light refreshments so that people could break their fast and not have to wait until they got home. I asked the father of one of the pupils at the Youth Minyan if he could take me in his car to the hospital and we arrived there at about 10.00 p.m.
Not only did I have the Mitzvah of reading the Megillah to my wife, there was another Jewish woman in the maternity ward who came to my wife’s room to hear the Megillah. She had told my wife that she had never heard the Megillah read before and my wife invited her to hear it. I read the Megillah for both of them - my baby son cried a bit during the reading - and I then ordered a taxi to take me home.
Some members of the Youth Minyan were going around the houses that night doing a “Purim speil” in aid of charity. I told them not to come till much later that evening since I would not be at home and indeed they arrived late that evening.
There was no school that year on Purim - sadly, not because it was Purim but because it was the day before Good Friday. The members of the Kollel therefore arranged a Minyan in the Yeshivah for Shacharit and the Megillah. One of the members of the Kollel read the Megillah. We then collected money from those present to keep the Mitzvah of Matanot Laevyonim. I immediately took the money to the housing estate of the Jewish Welfare Council, went to the office and asked the secretary which two people were in need of charity. I then went to their rooms and handed them the money and wished them a happy Purim.
My wife was scheduled to come out of the hospital that day and I had originally planned to read her the Megillah when she arrived home. However since there was this other woman in the maternity ward, I changed my plans and read the Megillah to both of them in the hospital. My wife gave her Mishloach Manot and explained this Mitzvah to her.
After a few days my son became yellow from jaundice, which is quite usual with babies. Since this could make problems with the Brit Milah which was scheduled to take place that Shabbat, I asked a doctor at the hospital whether there was any medical reason to delay the Brit and he answered that in his opinion it could go on as scheduled.
We had arranged for a Mohel to come from Manchester - the local Mohel the Rev. Harris was due to be out of town that Shabbat. I had already told the Mohel that the baby was yellow and so he said he would come a few hours before Shabbat to look at the baby and decide whether a postponement was necessary. He would leave himself sufficient time to return to Manchester should he decide that the Brit could not take place that Shabbat. Meanwhile we had to prepare the meal for after the Brit and notify our friends of the time we hoped it would take place.
The Mohel arrived on Friday afternoon, looked at the baby and said that the Brit had to be postponed. I told him what the doctor had said but he answered that he was the one to decide. We had to put the meal in our deep freezer and immediately notify everybody by telephone of the postponement. However the “Shalom Zachor” took place that evening in my house to which a number of friends came.
The Mohel returned every few days, looked at the baby and said “not yet.” Another problem was looming. Pesach was approaching. The meal which was completely Chametz was in the freezer. We needed to clean the freezer for Pesach. We had to order our meat products, for which we required the freezer. We also had to clean the house for Pesach. What would happen if the Brit could only take place a few days before Pesach? Where would we meanwhile store the frozen Chametz meal? It would not be practical to use our house for this meal in the days immediately before Pesach. What would happen if the Brit could only take place during Chol Hamoed Pesach? What would we do about a meal? All these questions and others as well kept going through my mind.
However the worry was unnecessary. Just over a week before Pesach, when the baby was 27 days old, the Mohel decided the Brit could take place. Our lounge and dining room were already Kosher for Pesach. I put a notice on the lounge door asking that people not enter it. The Brit took place in the dining room which I requested people not to bring food into. We had the meal in our morning room. Since there was less space in this room than in our dining room, I borrowed very narrow tables from the Childwall Synagogue and I managed to seat about 16 people in this room for the meal. I had invited representative pupils from the school and I arranged a table for them in the kitchen since there was no more room in the morning room. Light refreshments were served in the entrance hall.
The Brit took place in the dining room. Rabbi Roberg was the Sandak. Almost all the Rabbis and Ministers from Liverpool were present and we tried to give them all kibudim. Michael Rothbard announced the kibudim. One pupil from my school who was present fainted! Finally after 27 days my son, and he remained the only son amongst 6 daughters, received a name.
Since we had a boy, after 4 girls, my eldest daughter felt that “her nose was put out of joint.” One day a letter arrived for my son addressed to Mr. rather than Master. She immediately said “If he’s Mr., then I am Mrs.!”