On the occasion of the 90th birthday on August 11, 1999, this Middlesbrough Matriarch, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate this happy family event.
The grandchildren each read out excerpts from her busy life which she followed with her own text, making appropriate corrective comments. First Leeds, then Middlesbrough, then Sunderland and finally Jerusalem.
Perhaps this is a suitable way to celebrate the birthdays of our elderly parents - - it is an enjoyable experience for all taking part and there is a permanent written record which is reserved for future generations.
Bobbe, this is your life. Today you are 90 years old "B’li Ayin Hara" this all started in Leeds on August 11, 1909. There are sad events and happy events, tragic and humorous, but as we say every Friday night in Eshet Hayil, but you have surpassed them all.
Oh look here are the telegrams that arrived:
1. Mazaltov to the happy parents, Leah and Mayer from your dear sister and brother Sonia and Abie.
2. Mazaltov to the third generation of Cohens in Leeds: you should have many more issue born in Yorkshire so that they can play for the county cricket team - Wilfred Rhodes
3. Mazaltov to the Cohen family: from your milk shop in Bridge Street you should be able to build up an empire - after all that’s what Cadburys did - fondest regards, King Edward the VII
4. Mazaltov, From Big Rosie to little Rosie and from Shayna Raisel to Shayna Raisel, from your dear cousin Rose Pearlman in Sunderland - we are both named after the same Bobbe.
And so the family grew; after Rose there came Solly named after Zaide Shlomo also a Leeds man, and then Kivie named for Akiva Hakadosh the grandfather who was killed in the woods by his workers in Russia, and then Yosef Dov - Jossy, who could sing My Yiddish Mamma by the age of three.
But now the very sad events started to encircle the Cohen family. In 1917 the First World War had still not ended and father Mayer was worried that he would be called up to the army where many of his contempories had been killed, wounded or assimilated. His depression led to a form of pneumonia and before the war was over he died at the age of 29 leaving a widow and four children and during the week of the Shiva, 5 year old Kivie started developing symptoms that were to lead to a life of complete incurable invalidity until he died at the age of 56.
Leah brought up her children, dealt with her sick son and ran the milk shop in Byron Street. It is true that she had the help of her two elder children when she managed to keep them away from school despite the school inspector. Fortunately sister and brother got on very well together although there was always the odd occasion when: "Sorry these two heavy milk cans have to go to the Shapiros so would you please take them Solly, " No, you take them Rosie, I’ve got school to go to today"
But the family pulled through and Rosie and Solly spent most of their summer holidays with the Pearlmans in Sunderland so they really were living in two towns at the same time and that’s why the Pearlmans and Cohens being cousins grew up like brothers and sisters.
Bobbe, is doing very well at school especially at the Thorsby High School where the motto is Fortis Qui Se Vincit, taken from Pirkei Avot, "Who is strong, he who conquers himself". She was sure to receive her Bagrut with flying colours but was prevented from writing final exams owing to an attack of scarlet fever. In fact there is a letter to this effect in the glass covered piano stool at no. 49 Palmach .
So here we are now in the early 1930’s and Bobbe is working as the secretary for Mr. Sid Morris in Leeds who really wants her to take over the firm and in fact when she moved to Middlesbrough he said he was prepared to pay her train fares back to Leeds to look after his business. But the early 1930’s were swinging times for Bobbe - if you look carefully in the piano stool you will find photographs of various ex-boyfriends from the Zionist summer schools but I do not want to bore you with their names.
In 1931 at a literary meeting in Sunderland the young people of the North East come to meet, including Morris Saville and his sister Doris from Middlesbrough, who unfortunately dies soon after. Also there is a young man originally from Leeds, but now working in Sunderland called Solly Cohen. Morris says to his sister that Solly would make a nice brother-in-law but nothing happens.
Until 1934, and it is not at a summer school, or a "Lit" Meeting. but through a respectable Shadchan that Bobbe meets Moshe Saville. The various families check each other out - Moshe is officially coming to see his fianceé in Leeds but at the same time he can hear the world famous Chazan Stern singing in the New Synagogue. The young couple are married on October 7th 1934 at the Francis Street Shul by Rabbi Hurwitz - there used to be a dining-room clock - I wonder what happened to it - to celebrate the event.
The young couple settle above the shop which was the home of Zaide’s parents in Newport Road, Middlesbrough, not exactly the place you would expect to find a big city Leeds girl to move to.
But Bobbe is happy, although after a few months she realizes that there is no Kosher grocery store in Middlesbrough and therefore in the following year the two of them open up Saville’s grocery shop in St. Barnabas Road which was to last for 30 years. Their first daughter Myra is born shortly thereafter but 4 years later she dies of an illness very difficult to cure in those days especially in war-time conditions.
In the meantime Michael is born, named after Zaida Mayer, just before the war starts. They move out of the shop to a house round the corner in Ayresome Park Road where they live for 12 years - the same road as the Middlesbrough football ground.
The war: Zaide Moshe joins the fire service and then the RAF. Bobbe, like her mother in Leeds, is left to bring up the children and run the business on her own. Michael refuses to eat - ask Uncle Solly - David brings everything up - ask Uncle Jossy, only Ruth was a good baby.
In 1943 Zaide phoned Bobbe from the Hebrides, Rosie, did you hear the news, Italy has capitulated. What, I didn’t know Italy was in the war. Where did she have time to listen to the Radio or read Newspapers?
Shortly after the war on a visit to Sunderland, Michael, being a big boy, goes out with Uncle Solly and Zaide Moshe to the Greyhounds and when he returns you say to him "Well Michael, did your Daddy win"? and Michael replies: " My father isn’t a dog."
Whilst the children are still at school an opportunity arises for a move to Sunderland, which is probably where they should have moved to in 1934, but Zaide Saville is told his destiny is to remain in Middlesbrough - some destiny.
But Bobbe and Zaide manage to bring up the three children in the way of the Torah Michael and David are the first boys of the Middlesbrough Cheder to learn Gemara, apart from the sons of Rabbi Miller since the days of Rabbi Epstein, and Ruth is the first and last Middlesbrough girl to go to the Gateshead Sem. The Savilles are among the few families who keep Shabbat and have a Succa. On Shabbat afternoons the children go to Zaide Yehoshua for a private lesson and then go with Zaide Moshe, sick-visiting, normally to see non-Jewish neighbours in hospital.
The grocery business is not a great financial success as most of the people in town do not come to the shop and sometimes only on a Thursday to buy bread, when Zaide Moshe says to them from the Torah, Thou shalt not live on bread alone. One customer rings up to inquire whether the lemonade is fresh and another mistakes matza crumbs for mouse dirt. The week before Pesach yet another customer complains when he is taking a black bread too near the Pesach section that he is in fact not suffering from cholera. In the evening especially during the War, Bobbe and Zaide cut up the butter, prepare the Ration Coupons and weigh out hundreds of packets of sugar and biscuits.
In 1964 they finally move to Sunderland where they stay for 7 years and they fit in the Kehilla as if they have lived there all their lives. They do not appear to have missed Middlesbrough at all. The highlight of their stay there was Auntie Ruth’s wedding on a freezing snowy February day out in an open space next to the Shul. The sad part was Zaide Moshe’s accident when he was run over by a car and you looked after him for months, better than any nurse.
Once Bobbe started having grandchildren life became happier for her, although during her troubles she never complained. The first to arrive on the scene were Chaim and Shimon, who at the ages of 5 and 3 went to Dayan Weisz’s shul in Manchester one Friday night, and turned off all the lights, then turned them on again, and then turned them off again.
After 7 years in Sunderland you finally come on Aliya to join the rest of the family leaving only Michael in Leeds. But 3 years later Zaide Moshe dies - these were the three happiest years of his life. One thing we must say Bobba, we think you should now start going to an Ulpan. Your Ivrit is good enough for your Bridge and the Supermarket, but you really must make an effort, in speaking Ivrit.
Your retired life in Israel so far seem to have been most productive - although now we seem to do more baby-sitting for you than you for us.
Your work at the Savta Club should entitle you to receive the O.B.E. and you are still famous for your vegetarian chopped liver, cheesecake, chopped herring and rice crispie biscuits.
The Bobbe Friday Luncheon Club can now recite off by heart the entire menu of what has become your Menu Fixé: Merav, Osnat, Moshe, all together: Lachmaniot-mezonot, Lax, Crisps and Diet-Sprite.
There’s one thing that I would like to add as part of the tribute to Zaide Saville whom I remember as a five year old child. As you know, I accompanied my Abba on the historic visit last October-November for the closing of Kehilat Middlesbrough. The whole thing was very impressive and seeing the dying Kehilla was a real eye-opener for me, being a Yerushalmi. People have asked me whether I was impressed by the formality of the Tefilla, by the fact that the Kehilla was closing or by the large number of people who came for the Sunday service. I said the thing that impressed me most was to have the Zechut of being the last Chazan for Tefillat Shacharit, standing in the exact same spot on the Bimah where my father davened, where my Zaide davened, and where his father Reb Yehoshua Saville, after whom I am named, davened. But perhaps more important was that I realized that the "Nigunim" of all the Savilles through Lita, Middlesbrough and Yerushalyim have been brought down and sung throughout the generations of Savilles. As I sang the Saville Nigunim it not only gave special significance to the words but to the continuity of our family as we have known it for over a hundred years.
On behalf of all the Nechadim and Ninim, including my Abba and Ima at present in America and all the Savilles at present in Leeds, we all wish you Happy Birthday, Bobbe.