Middlesbrough Memories by Michelle (Smollan) Mendelovich-Michaels
I was born in 1957 in M’bro and my early memories of the shul revolve round Purim parties held in the shul hall. The wonderful smell of egg rolls, the tables set, groaning with food, the women in the kitchen making tea, and vague memories of the caretaker’s wife, a lovely woman with very red hair! A figment of my imagination? Being dressed up as a Hawaian girl and having my picture taken on the shul steps. Winning a prize as Twiggy (yes, me!) with a mop and bucket and a sign saying "I will clean the beaches" after the Torrey Canyon oil spill. My memories of cheder are vague and mixed up and I’m only in my 40’s! I still remember some really daft things that I learnt from Rev Kersh eg; that giraffe would be kosher if we only knew where to shecht the neck!
Shul memories—when I was little, sitting next to my dad downstairs, cuddling up to him and the special feel (silky) and smell of his tallis, playing with the long fringes, the smiles from Rev Kersh, Sam Doberman, Eric Jaffa and Jake Wiseman. As I got older and couldn’t go downstairs any more, spending what seemed like hours in shul on Yom Tov, not really understanding what was going on and doing things to keep myself occupied. Like counting the women’s hats, seeing if any one had the same hat, studying the beautiful clothes, counting feathers on the hats of the women who were sitting in front of me and my Mum. Looking forward to the prayer for the State of Israel and the Queen (the only bits of the service I really understood) and to this day I still know the words off by heart (Singers version!).Moving the name labels around (if you were sitting on the right of the shul, then it was me that moved your label—sorry!). Rosh Hashana—ending up sitting with Jane Brechner on the steps in shul because there wasn’t a space to be had upstairs, not even for two girls, hard to imagine, every seat taken, not a gap anywhere! Yom Kippur walking round the park with my Dad in the break and collecting conkers!
The excitement and work when it came to Succot—the men raising the roof of the brick building at the back of the shul, hanging fruits on the trellis, ladders all over the place and then watching someone squeezing the rain out of the carpet! Times when the shul was full of flowers. The beauty of the Sifrei Tora in the Aron, when the curtains were opened and the sort of magic each time a Torah was put back in the Aron and Rev Kersh sang "Etz Chaim". I remember Philip Stock singing his Bar Mitzvah portion and sounding to me like an angel. Yom Tov afternoons having relatives and friends round for tea, Aunties Eleanor, Leah and Betsy to name a few. I seemed to have a lot of Aunties and Uncles, and know that this was because there were a lot of wonderful, warm and friendly grown-ups in my life.
I also have vague memories of cheder trips to Lealholme for sports days—is this possible? Later on, my Jewish life centered round Hanoar Hatzioni, first meetings in the shul Hall. Games and fun on a Sunday afternoon and I still remember Joy Stock’s’ father coming with half a body to show us how to do artificial respiration! Then meetings progressed to people’s homes, Martin Jaffa, Martin Steingold, Michael Niman, Jane and Philip Brechner, Susan Doberman, Paul and Philip Stock, Louis Wiseman, Mark Prinsley, Julia Richmond. I know that I have forgotten other people’s names and it is very frustrating.
My enduring memories of M’bro are of the great love I received from so many people in the community, both as a child and when I returned to M’bro as a married woman and gave birth to my two children there. Rev and Mrs Kersh helped and supported me at numerous points in my life. Sam Doberman and his sisters, who always were kind and loving. The guests who came to my wedding at the Marton Country Club. David’s Brit Milah, when Pam (Vyner) Talisman took David downstairs and Joy Stock sat with me in my bedroom and held my hand. To all the many other people who made M’bro a place that I am so proud to have been born in and so lucky to have lived in as a child and an adult; and to David Saville and Donald Wiseman, whose hard work is continuing to tap into the warmth of our small Jewish community, thank you.