At the age of thirteen, I had my Barmitzvah, which is a Jewish religious ceremony to celebrate a boy's coming of age in religious matters and in the Synagogue, and for that matter to act as and be a good-man in all walks of life. The routine in the synagogue is for the boy to be called up to the elevated platform (or pulpit) to read for the first time a portion from one of the five books of Moses. It may be read out aloud in a speaking voice, but this is rare because most boys by that age have learned the musical cantillation and can sing or, more correctly chant, the portion which has been chosen for them. The choice is not a free one. During the course of every year, extracts from the Pentateuch, that is the five books are chanted in Synagogue in rotation, so it depends on the boy's birth date which portion is assigned to him. Needless to say, the reading is done from the scrolls of the law handwritten in Hebrew on parchment without vowels. Always there is absolute silence, so the boy is absolutely on his own with everyone listening to it. After that the Rabbi gives a special address in the vernacular; in our case the English language, to the boy, explaining the meaning of Barmitzvah. Literally it means: BAR - son, cub, sibling, child of; MITZVAH has two meanings; the first " a good deed"; the second meaning "a commandment" which in this case means God'-s commandments, the ten commandments, moral as well as religious duties.
Nowadays, girls have the same routine in some synagogues and a slightly less impressive service in others. To jump ahead in my story the odd sixty years or so, my grand-daughter Nadia at her Bat Mitzvah ceremony (Bat means daughter of) conducted most of the Sabbath morning service in faultless Hebrew, perfect diction and attractive musical voice. That was a couple of years ago, and next year my grand-son Adam has to similarly distinguish himself. My present from the Jewish Community was a Hebrew-English prayer book with a special page in illuminated script commemorating the occasion. I do not remember reading it very much but I have already passed it on to my grandson as a sort of heirloom.
Barmitzvah time is a time for a special birthday party after the hard work is over. In 1933 in the month of May, my party was tea and cakes in the back garden for whoever cared to call. Over that weekend and a few days into the working week members of the Synagogue and friends from various walks of life and some of my parents’ customers (and possibly some creditors also) came to pay respects and partake of the refreshments. I honestly cannot remember whether any relatives came, not that we had many but there were one or two, within reasonable traveling distance. Of course it is a time for receiving presents, and I seem to remember getting rather too many hairbrushes and shaving sets; someone must have been having a closing down sale
Round about this time I was indeed beginning to be a bit adventurous. I acquired a banjo. I bought it in Harry Consitt’s saleroom for ten shillings and sixpence at auction. Now I had been looking at that beautiful chromium instrument every day for the previous week in the window of the sale room. I begged, borrowed and stole a bit out of the till and went to the auction. Unfortunately the auction was on the Sabbath day and after synagogue service, instead of going straight home to eat with the family, I had to go to the sale room and by the time this lot came up and I got home with it, I was about two and a half hours late We had a little lean-to glass house behind the kitchen in Mayberry Grove and I hid it there, not daring to take it inside the house. I was in dire trouble and for a long time I was persona non qrata (whatever that means!), but in due time my parents had plenty of business worries so I lived it down..
I learned to finger all the common chords and to read the chord symbols without a teacher because on the music there are printed little diagrams showing where the fingers went. I tried to play proper single string banjo but without a teacher and without much necessary patience, I never succeeded. However within a month or soI was getting professional engagements with small bands at parties, weddings and church hall dances. I used to earn at the start about three shillings a night as part of the rhythm section, which would consist of piano, drums, bass and me. The banjo strummed forcefully and rhythmically made a good backing sound which could be effective without amplification, and guitars were not that popular at that time .
I have already mentioned that Hugh Bell School was renowned, amongst other things, for its football team . The art Master at Hugh Bell was a Mr Greet and he was the football enthusiast and in charge of all the football. I remember him as a very gentle and understanding man. He always wanted me in the team and often in the first couple of years I had to decline because the game was on a Saturday morning and I had to be in the synagogue. After thirteen when I began to “flutter my wings”, I began to adopt a deceitful ruse. On Saturday morning I used to leave home all toffed up for Synagogue, but instead of going there I went to the football pitch where I changed into my football attire, which I think I must have arranged for someone else to fetch for me. Now the changing accommodation, if any, was always very primitive, and I had to fold my clothes very carefully, to keep mud off them. The whole charade was unsatisfactory, but I was in the grip of football fever for playing football. I have never had much patience watching others play.
Another character was “Ikey” Solomon, a member of the Hebrew Congregation and an excellent history master. What I remember most about him, apart from him being short and broad and a bit of a Welsh accent, was his mental direction finder and accuracy in a sudden 180 degrees pivot and throwing a piece of chalk and hitting the culprit boy disturbing his lecture, because he lectured whilst strolling around the classroom.
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