MY RETURN TO ZION

By the summer of 1977, I had decided that it was time for my family to return to Israel. I had been five and a half years at the school and felt that I had made my contribution to Torah education in England. Also my children were by then growing up and with all due respect to Liverpool, it was not the ideal place for the Jewish education I wanted them to have.

I therefore went to the Headmaster and told him my plans in confidence. He asked me whether he could pass this information on to the Chairman of the Governors and I agreed.

If one is going to Israel for a holiday, one can just pack one’s bags and go. Returning to live there is a different matter. One has to find a job and a place to live and this needs to be arranged before returning to Israel.

The Headmaster had written me a very nice recommendation. He first described my numerous and varied activities in the School and then concluded, “Rabbi Simons has a keen analytical mind which enables him to grasp rapidly complex organizational problems and to work out solutions. He is energetic and can be relied upon to pursue his objectives forcefully and with sustained drive.”

The Convener of the RAC, Rev. Malits, concluded his recommendation, “Rabbi Dr. Simons is a person of the highest integrity, most conscientious and sincere in all he undertakes, and of high academic distinction. He will bring all these qualities to bear, together with wholehearted devotion, in whatever work he undertakes.”

The Chairman of the RAC, Rabbi Roberg wrote, “He is a man of great integrity, determination, and courage, and has, over the years, had many opportunities to bring into play his unique qualities and very special skills as an organiser and as an educational theorist.”

I wanted to go into education and one of my interests was in a Yeshivah for English speaking Ba’alei Teshuvah students. I accordingly wrote to Yeshivot such as Dvar Yerushalayim, Aish HaTorah and Ohr Samayach and also to the Jewish Agency Torah Department and various other individuals who might be able to assist me and waited for replies.

One of these individuals forwarded my request to the Religious Education Department of the Israeli Ministry of Education. A comment which came back to me from them or from the Jewish Agency Torah Department (I don’t remember which), via a third party was, “What does Simons want with us? The school he works for is connected with the ZFET. Let him approach them.” This was unfortunately politics in Israel!

In May 1977, I received a letter from Rabbi Baruch Horovitz, Rosh Yeshivah of Dvar Yerushalayim in Jerusalem, asking me for further details of my “background of Torah knowledge” and copies of educational material etc. that I had produced. He added that he “may well have a vacancy” for me.

I complied with his request and at the beginning of the summer holidays received a further letter from him:

I wish to thank you very much indeed for sending me your articles and book which are very impressive indeed.
We would be interested, in principle, to have you here to direct an audio-visual aid centre integrated with our general programme to participate in our teachers’ training course, as well as do other teaching here. However, we would not be able to finalise, and put forward any concrete proposal without meeting. Please let us know when you are coming here.

Since it was the summer holidays, it was the ideal time to go to Israel. I did not have a current passport at the time, so I hurried to the passport office in Liverpool, ordered a passport and said it was urgent. I then contacted a travel agent to book an air ticket to Israel. I had planned to be in Israel for two weeks and return about the day before school began. It was however the holiday season and although I could get a flight to Israel on the day I wanted, this was not so with the return flight. The first available flight was the Sunday after the term began, meaning I would miss the first two days of school.

I tried to contact the Headmaster to get his permission, but he was on holiday. I then tried the Deputy Head and there I had better luck. He was at home. I explained the situation and he agreed to my missing these two days of school.

I had planned to go first to Dvar Yerushalayim and if they rejected me, try other places on my list. To leave all my options open, I had written to these other Yeshivot, telling them when I would be in Israel, and that I might contact them. If I was successful with Dvar Yerushalayim, I would be able to take a holiday in Israel until my flight back.

But things did not work out like that!

I had arranged to stay at the house of my wife’s aunt in the Rehavia area of Jerusalem. She was on holiday and my brother-in-law and his wife were using her apartment at the time. I arrived in Israel and the next day went to Dvar Yerushalayim and spoke to the Rosh Yeshivah and the Vice Principal. This Yeshivah had been established for Ba’alei Teshuvah by Rabbi Baruch Horowitz from Manchester and his Deputy was Rabbi Aryeh Carmel from London. It could be called the British Yeshivah for Ba’alei Teshuvah.

When I met them that day, they wanted me to give a lecture a week later on the use of audio-visual aids in teaching Torah. My first week was thus taken up in preparing a lecture. Since largely on the basis of this lecture they would decide whether or not to employ me, it had to be a jolly good lecture.

I gave the lecture one evening the following week. It included the subjects of teaching objectives, methods and techniques for the teacher, how to use audio-visual materials, the availability of materials in Religious Knowledge and the application of audio-visual aids to teach Tephillin.

But even after hearing this lecture, they didn’t give me their decision. They wanted me to go to various Government offices to see if we could get some grants for our proposed audio-visual programme and, for at least part of my initial salary, to be paid for by the Ministry of Absorption. I don’t think I had a free day from Dvar Yerushalayim all the time I was in Israel!

I had relatives who lived in Petach Tiqva and I had to go and visit them. But even on that day, I was not free of Dvar Yerushalayim! I asked my brother-in-law that day to go and take in some forms which Dvar Yerushalayim required.

It was getting near to the time for my return to England and Dvar Yerushalayim had still not given me an answer regarding employment. In fact it was already past the day I had originally wanted to return to England. Almost on my last day in Israel, I finally managed to sit down with them and agree orally on my employment and starting salary and other conditions of employment. Some details were still left in the air and they said that they would write to me to confirm everything. How fortunate it turned out that I could not get the flight on the day I had originally intended to!

My plane was scheduled to leave on Sunday morning. I think it was on the Friday that I got a telephone call that because of sanctions there would be a delay of a number of hours. That Motozei Shabbat, we started saying Selichot and I was going to a Shul which had advertised midnight Selichot. I accordingly stayed up late and arrived at this Shul a little before midnight and saw the people leaving. At almost the last moment, they had advanced the Selichot by an hour. I had no alternative but to get just a few hours sleep and get up early the next morning for Selichot.

I went to the airport where there were even more delays and I finally arrived at London airport at about midnight. As I was going through the customs, a custom’s official stopped me for a spot check. I was carrying my brief case and he asked to look in it. He took out an envelope which contained papers I had taken for my interviews and he started taking them out of the envelope. Maybe he thought there were diamonds amongst the papers! I said jokingly that they were not pornographic. But he didn’t have a sense of humour. “Behold the customs’ officials neither slumber nor sleep!”

I decided I would have to go to my mother’s house in Edgware for the rest of the night. However, the taxis did not want to go there at that time of night and it was necessary to summon the airport police to make the taxis fulfill their statutory duties. I finally arrived in Edgware, recited that night’s Selichot and went to bed. The following day, dead tired, I returned to Liverpool.

When I returned to School, Michael Rothbard told me not to ask what the Headmaster had done with the timetabling, but when I looked at it, he had done nothing at all serious.

I updated the Headmaster on my Israel trip and told him I was awaiting confirmation of my appointment to Dvar Yerushalayim. He also needed to know quickly so that he could make arrangements to appoint my successor.

Whilst at the school, I had repeatedly pointed out the serious defect of not having the same Director of Jewish Studies for both schools. The Foundation realised the force of this argument and when they were talking about my successor, they decided he would be Director of both schools. The Headmaster of the Primary School then said that when they appointed him Headmaster, he was also appointed as Director of Jewish Studies. So this potentially great improvement did not take place. However, when my successor Rabbi Michael Rosin was appointed a few months after I had left, I saw in the “Jewish Chronicle” that he “will also collaborate in regard to Jewish Studies” with the Headmaster of the Primary School. I sincerely hoped this worked out for the pupils’ sake.

Several weeks had passed since I had returned to England but I heard nothing from Dvar Yerushalayim. I finally wrote them a letter, detailing all the points we had agreed upon. I asked them to confirm them in writing, which they did.

I could then begin my removal arrangements. I went to a house agent and put my house on the market. I had not yet made it public that I was leaving Liverpool, and the Headmaster told me that some pupils had asked him why my house was for sale.

When in 1972, I had wanted to buy a house, it was a bad time for buyers; now in 1977 when I wanted to sell it, it was a bad time for sellers. I never seem to have any luck in the real estate market! After a number of months I found a buyer. We negotiated a price and since I knew there was no point in taking my fitted carpets to Israel, I made it a condition that he also had to buy them. When I asked him the name of his solicitor I found that it was also my solicitor. I therefore asked my solicitor whether this would be a problem. He said it would not, since our interests coincided, I wanted to sell and he wanted to buy. If however a dispute arose, he would be able to act for neither.

We fixed the date of our departure for immediately after the end of the school year, which was towards the end of July. About January, I wrote a conditional letter of resignation to the King David Foundation. What do I mean by conditional? Under the regulations a teacher who wishes to leave at the end of the school year must give notice by the end of May. In my letter I wrote that I had the right to cancel this letter until the end of May. I added that “strictly unofficially” it was very unlikely that I would do so. I kept the door ajar in case of some last minute emergency.

During that year, I remained in almost constant contact with Dvar Yerushalayim. The Vice Principal had submitted a programme to the Israeli Ministry of Absorption for a grant. As a result, I was asked to meet a specialist in this field, who was on the staff of Bar-Ilan University, and who was in England at the time. We met in the waiting room of Piccadilly railway station in Manchester towards the end of February 1978 and discussed the programme. I remember that whilst we were talking together, there was a real anti-Semite sitting near us who was making comments about Jews in the most obscene language.

The specialist felt that the programme was far too ambitious and needed to be considerably toned down. However, he expressed a sincere desire to help and he also telephoned me afterwards to reiterate this desire. In the light of his observations, I redrafted the proposals of the intended research and sent them on to the Vice-Principal.

As the summer months approached I took stock of what things were worth buying and taking with us in our lift to Israel. I would regularly go into the centre of Liverpool and buy, amongst other things, crockery, clothes and small carpets. I also did minor repairs on our effects. I remember recovering my children’s doll’s pram which was torn, with “fablon.”

I made inquiries about which firm to employ for our lift to Israel and got various quotations. I asked one firm whether they could show me letters from satisfied customers. They answered me that people don’t write letters of thanks when they are satisfied - they only send letters of complaint when they are dissatisfied. Sadly, I know myself that this is true. We finally chose a firm. It was arranged that all our belongings would be packed in a container. A week before we left the firm came and in the course of two days packed up our belongings and put them into the container. With the exception of our refrigerator, freezer, washing machine and gas-stove, virtually everything went with us to Israel. For the last few days we borrowed from the Shul and from friends simple items of furniture, etc.

We put an announcement on the local radio for these kitchen appliances and we had no trouble in selling them. The non-Jew who bought our gas-stove also got as a “bonus,” an extra gas top - the one we used for Pesach!

Just before I left, a former pupil of mine, who regularly wrote a column in the “Liverpool Jewish Gazette” decided to write a series of articles entitled “The Great Education Debate.” He asked to interview me and he turned up at my study with his cassette recorder. I likewise recorded the interview on a cassette recorder, to make sure I wasn’t misquoted! He asked me about my achievements, problems and how I saw the future at the school. The interview would only come out in the newspaper after I was in Israel and I asked him to send me a copy. He obviously overlooked this. After over 24 years, I finally managed to get hold of a copy! It was very interesting reading even after such a long time and I still agreed with what I had said at this interview.

A few weeks before I left, I received a very nice letter from the Secretary of the King David Foundation:

“During the time that you have spent in our employ, you have made a substantial contribution towards ensuring that the religious life of the School was strengthened. Your steadfast adherence to the precepts of our religion and your endeavour to transmit this feeling to the students who have passed through the school during the seven years you have been with us is appreciated.” Similar comments were made by Henry Lachs at a meeting of the Jewish Studies sub-Committee, just before I left.

In my answer to the Secretary I wrote that “I am sure that I will always remember my seven years spent in Liverpool and pray that I have made a lasting impression on the pupils who have passed through the school. I hope that the Jewish character of the school will go from strength to strength.”

The Governors wanted to give me a going away present and they asked me what I wanted. At the time I needed a new brief case and I requested this. A few days before the end of each school year, the Chairman of the Governors would make an “at home” at his large house, for all the staff. At that year’s “at home,” he presented this brief case to me.

The brief case was wrapped in a George Henry Lee department store bag and he took it out of this bag to give me. I began my short speech there by asking him to give me the bag, since if I could find it cheaper anyone else, I would also receive the difference. (This is the advertised jingle of George Henry Lee!) I got a good laugh for this opening remark. On a more serious note I then commented on the positive attitude I found among the non-Jewish staff towards this Jewish school.

At this period, the Barmitzvah/Eshet Chayil ceremony was held and I gave the address. I wanted to start by quoting Shakespeare on the “ages of man” but did not know from which of his many plays it came. The English teacher was able to assist me in this matter. I included in my speech how I felt that in four ways we lead other Jewish schools in this country. (The entire verbatim text of my speech is given in an Appendix to this book.)

The staff also wanted to give me a leaving present and Michael Rothbard was called upon to make the speech of presentation. He said that it would be some books which I would be able to collect from a bookshop in Jerusalem. In my answer of thanks, I recalled that when I was in school, we collected money for someone who said she was leaving. She received the leaving present but by the next term had changed her mind and decided to return to the school. “By telling me to collect my present when I reach Jerusalem,” I said jokingly, “you want to make sure I don’t change my mind.” I was also given a “Bon voyage” card signed by all the members of staff.

The girls of class 2 aleph gave me a very nice book entitled “Heritage of Britain” - (maybe they thought I would be homesick for Britain!). I still have this book in my library. They also gave me a card signed by the class and a booklet on how to trace one’s genealogy - the only problem is my ancestors came from Eastern Europe and not Britain.

Shortly before I left Liverpool, I heard Dr. Goldberg tell one of the members of the Governing body or Foundation, that had they not done such things as setting up a Committee of Inquiry, I would have stayed more years in Liverpool. Actually this was not correct, but I fully understood what Dr. Goldberg meant. In this context, after I was in Israel some years, I met one of my pupils who had come on Aliyah and was the son of one of the Governors. He accidentally let slip in a conversation to me that the governing body had wished they had treated me better. Actually he stopped himself before he had finished this entire sentence but he had already said enough for me to understand.

On my last Shabbat in Liverpool, the Youth took the entire service and the leining at the Childwall Shul. This was the only occasion during my entire stay in Liverpool when I agreed to sit on the Minister’s seat on the platform next to the Ark. I delivered the sermon. I spoke on the right for Jews to settle in any parts of Eretz Israel and was very critical of those, both Jews and non-Jews, who were against these rights. Following the service, the Shul made a Kiddush for me.

The day before we left Liverpool was the fast of 17 Tammuz, a fast which ended in Liverpool at about 11 o’clock at night. I spent the day writing various letters of thanks to people who had given me leaving presents and had assisted me during my stay in Liverpool. My wife spent the day and also the following morning packing our hand luggage - about ten suitcases.

On my last day in Liverpool, a Monday, there was no one to lein in the Shul and I did the leining. As Eli Greitzer, the Secretary said to me - right up to the last day I helped the Shul. Having mentioned Mr. Greitzer, I must mention the following incident which showed his remarkable character. A few months after I arrived in Israel, I was hospitalised in Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital with a severe attack of jaundice. When I arrived in the hospital accompanied by my wife, I suddenly said “look Mr. Greitzer is here.” What had happened was that he was in Israel and he had gone to (or telephoned) Dvar Yerushalayim Yeshivah where I worked and they had told him I was ill. He didn’t just stop at that. He telephoned Kiryat Arba and they told him I had been taken to hospital. He then went straight to the hospital to visit me. Childwall Shul was very fortunate in having a person like Mr. Greitzer as their secretary.

During the course of that last morning in Liverpool, the various utilities came to read the various meters and make the various disconnections. I bought a card of welcome for the family who had bought the house. Since they were non-Jewish, my last job was removing the Mezuzot.

We had ordered two taxis, since it would have been impossible to load about 10 suitcases on one taxi. One of them arrived quickly. But we had to wait for the second one. When it arrived the driver explained that he had had problems with a drunken lady!

We got to Lime Street station in Liverpool, loaded the luggage onto the train and travelled to Watford Junction station, which was the nearest station to Edgware, where we were to spend the night. The following day, after having our last family photograph taken in England, we went off to London airport. My youngest two children, since they were under 2 years old were not given seats or food in the plane. Another family who took a fancy to my daughter who was just under 2 years old, held her for much of the journey. My son aged 4 months travelled in his carry cot under the plane seat. After a few hours flight, when it was already dark, we saw the lights of Tel-Aviv.

We had finally returned to Zion!

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