From the Editor There has been a magnificent response to our inaugural Newsletter. Inside, you will find just a small selection from the many letters we have received; if yours is not amongst them, please be patient – we’ll publish more in the next issue.
We are still waiting to hear from the rest of you, with your memories, articles, news, further names and addresses.
The first issue has now gone out to almost 200 people throughout the world. In fact, its success has taken us somewhat by surprise. As you can imagine, the costs of producing and mailing 200 Newsletters 4 times a year will be considerable.
We do not propose to make any charge for being on our mailing list, but we would very much welcome donations and contributions towards these costs.
We, the Levy brothers—Mark, Harold and me Fred (Freddy in those days)—were born and brought up at 82 Ayresome Street. Round the corner, beyond the Football Ground in Ayresome Park Road, lived our maternal grandma, Hannah Cohen and her family.
In Sept ’39 Harold and I were evacuated with M’bro High School boys to Scarborough. Mark had already become a medical student at Liverpool University. I returned to Middlesbrough early in 1940 and sat the School certificate that spring, before a second spell of evacuation in Teesdale. At first, Terry Greenberg and I were billeted together at Romaldkirk. I came back home later that year to do biology for the Higher School certificate and during this time, until I entered Durham University at Newcastle, in 1942, I was for a time Rosh Gedud of M’bro Habonim.
My memories of the M’bro community are mainly of pre-war events and, in particular, of the hiatus between the closing down of Brentnall Street shul and the opening of the new shul. During this time, I had my Barmitzvah (April 1938) and shul services were being held in 2 rooms of premises in Linthorpe Road, not far from St Barnabus Road. I had a boys’ party at home and that was it. None of today’s high jinks. During this time, cheder classes were held at a school in the area.
About this time Kindertransport children were arriving and we boys soon took to fraternising with them in Albert Park.
My closest friend pre-Barmitzvah was Alan Miller, Rabbi Miller’s eldest son. Every Chol Hamoed Pesach, we would tramp out Ormesby way, light a fire and "roast" potatoes. This was beyond the Lunatic Asylum, as we then called it. I can’t recall any contact with him after 1939.
After I qualified in July 1947, I worked at the North Riding Infirmary as Casualty Officer for 6 months, before doing National service, but I don’t recall any communal contacts during that time. I did 2 years service in the Suez Canal Zone at TEK and remember hearing the distant roar of guns from Palestine following dissolution of the mandate.
My parents left M’bro for Southport while I was abroad and I have only been back once since. My uncles Myer and Walter Cohen lived and died there and their children, including my cousin Ruth Hurwitz, grew up there.
Fred Levy Liverpool, England
I was born in M’bro in 1937. My parents were Mick and Blumah Solomon and my grandfather was Gedalia Solomon. My mother’s family were the Smollans.
We left Middlesbrough for South Africa in 1948 to settle in a new country. We lived at first in Port Elizabeth, then Johannesburg, but my parents were homesick and we returned to M’bro in 1950. My elder sister now lives in London; she married a South African and they lived in J’burg for 35 years before returning to the UK, because of the violence in that country. My younger brother now lives in Salisbury, Wilts.
In 1950 we stayed in M’bro only a short while before moving to Newcastle upon Tyne, where my parents were in business. In 1956 I married my husband, a marine engineer on passenger liners running to Australia and New Zealand. We were married at Ravensworth shul; Rev Kersh officiated at the chuppa. We lived in Newcastle until 1962, when we emigrated to New Zealand. Both our children were born in the UK, but were 3 and 4 when we came here. I was very reluctant to come to New Zealand, but my husband said it was a wonderful country and, after 37 years here, I will agree he was correct.
On arrival in Wellington we were met by Rabbi Gotshall and were accepted into the community with open arms. My engineer husband was off to sea in 2 days, but on a local service. However, the Jewish community rallied round us, found us accommodation and generally accepted us as their own.
When I look back on these events I am always somewhat amazed that we landed in Wellington with 2 young children and £7 sterling in our pocket; but my husband had a good job and the community attended to our immediate needs until we found our feet. The children were taken to cheder; we had no car then, but that was no problem. This is but a small example of the Wellington Jewish community as it was and, to a large degree, still is.
It goes without saying that we have been fully involved with this community ever since and served on all sorts of committees, helping others who, like us, knew no one on day one in this country. I am now President of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Anne Benda Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Two Doctors Renew an Acquaintanceship – a Billingham Story
During the 1950's, 2 doctors, one from Cork, Ireland, Dr Joe Medalia and the other of Czech origin, Dr John Abels, end up in a suburb of Middlesbrough called Billingham. Neither of these doctors mix with the Jewish community. Joe and Vera have 2 daughters and a son; John and Claire have 2 daughters. Both families live in a completely assimilated atmosphere and in Billingham they hardly know each other, despite being of the same profession and religion. Of course they never joined the Middlesbrough shul.
Joe and Vera come to Jerusalem in the 1960's where he was in charge of the Casualty Department at Hadassah Ein Karem; Vera and daughter Susan ran an English speaking Gan. Lottie is a doctor in Ra’anana and Simon works on a Kibbutz.
John and Claire live in Billingham to this day; one of their daughters Frances lives in Toronto; the other daughter Jane is married to an Israeli—they live in Haifa and have 2 sons and a daughter.
The connection between these 2 families was that the Medalias had always said that the only Jewish people they remembered from the North-East were the Abels. This came to light in a sports article in a recent edition of The Jerusalem Post written by Ofer Abels-Ronen, about the Middlesbrough football team that had arrived in Israel. Susan (Medalia) Torfstein located Ofer and his brother Eyal, who turned out to be the grandsons of John and Claire Abels and live in Tel Aviv, but they seemed to know very little of their Teesside heritage. They were given the telephone number of Joe Medalia in Jerusalem. You can imagine the excitement that he felt when he received a telephone call from John Abels, whom he had not spoken to for nearly 50 years.
Jane (Abels) Ronen's story could make a book. At the age of 17 years old, when her sister was 10, she discovered that she was Jewish, when she confronted her grandfather’s gravestone in Prague, where she was taken by her father’s sister. Then she saw the numbers tatooed on her aunt’s arm. Her world changed from that day.
Jane started meeting Jewish people whilst studying dentistry at Guys Hospital in London and from then on it was straightforward: an IUJF trip to Israel in 1963; Professor Mann of Hadassah advises her to complete her studies and specialisation in England; meeting and marrying Rafi Ronen and living and working in Haifa. In a way she was perhaps putting into action the longings of her father, who before the War took a gold medal in swimming at the Maccabiah and who came to Israel as a volunteer during the Six Day War.
John and Claire are due to visit their daughter and grandchildren in September. Is anyone interested in meeting them and Joe Medalia to find out why Middlesbrough plus assimilation equals Aliya?
The Editor reserves the right to edit letters as appropriate