Kehilat Middlesbrough Newsletter No 24 February 2008 page 2 (of 6)
Rev Bernard Kersh Recordings (1987 & 1989) - The Background Story
Some of you may have heard the recordings of Rev Bernard Kersh (which can be found elsewhere on this site) and wondered how the recordings actually came to be made, so I thought I would share the background with Kehilat Middlesbrough readers.
In October 1987, Natalie Bookey and I got engaged. At that time, Natalie was living with her parents, Bernard & Beryl in Radlett and she thought it would be nice to visit Middlesbrough, see the shul and town where she grew up and spend a few hours with Rev Kersh.
Shortly after getting engaged, I was asked by the wardens of Radlett shul to daven for that community for the Yamim Nora’im, which fell just after our wedding date the following year. On hearing of our planned visit to Middlesbrough, together with my appointment for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, my future mother-in-law, suggested that when I met Rev Kersh, I might ask him to teach me a couple of melodies which I could use in Radlett over the High Holydays.
After making the arrangements for our New Year’s Eve visit, we duly arrived at Rev Kersh’s house with a sense of excitement for an eagerly anticipated tea (cassette recorder hidden in the car just in case the opportunity arose to record some of his beautiful melodies).
After a very pleasant hour or so, during which time Natalie and Rev Kersh chatted about people I didn’t know, recalled incidents that meant nothing to me and discussed places I had never heard of, I mentioned to Rev Kersh my upcoming appointment in Radlett. I told him that as a Sephardi boy, who grew up in an Oriental Synagogue, I was in need of some help to learn a few Ashkenazi niggunim for the High Holydays.
After some initial reluctance (“I’m too old for this” & “It’s so long since I have sung for anyone - I can’t remember all the tunes”), Rev Kersh enthusiastically got out his Machzorim (whilst I dashed to the car to get the cassette recorder) and then he started to sing.
Although not as young as he was, the clarity of his sweet voice, his beautiful melodies and the many lovely little touches, in both timing and cadence, showed me what a wonderful chazzan he must have been.
As soon as he launched into the nusach for Rosh Hashanah, he became animated and really started to enjoy himself, treating us to edited musical highlights from his “Melodies of the Jewish Year” collection. He moved into Yom Kippur and then on to the various Yom Tovim before ending with Shabbat (after a detour into Megillat Esther & Eicha). His singing was peppered with helpful comments and advice, all given in a most gentlemanly manner, which gave me an insight into what a very special man he was. We indeed spent a wonderful afternoon in his company.
Shortly after our visit, Rev Kersh moved to Bournemouth and we followed up the Middlesbrough recording with another session in the New Ambassador Hotel, where he normally spent Shabbat. Although some 2 years older than when we first met, he still sung beautifully and with the exception of some unfortunate tannoy announcements, we were able to capture some more of Rev Kersh’s wonderful melodies and mannerisms.
I am grateful to Michael Bharier for breaking down two long and unmanageable recordings into individual pieces, so that the beautiful davening of one of England’s finest unsung chazzanim can still be heard and enjoyed by visitors to this website. Neville Levy London, England
Back to the Heim, by Michael Saville
In Zeide Yehoshua Sobol’s diary written in Ivreh Teitch (Yiddish with Hebrew Script) there are several entries around the turn of the 19th century and against some of these entries, he wrote “I will never forget this day”. They included the various dates his parents and siblings left the port of Memel in Lithuania for North-East England and the birth dates of his 4 children. His son, father Moshe Saville, often spoke of happy and other times during the first 10 years of his life in the Shtetel of Alshad and his next 7 years in the larger Shtot of Shad and so after 1990 when Lithuania regained its independence from the Soviet Union and Judaism was no longer outlawed, there grew a desire to revisit the heim.
On a visit to Israel in February 2007, a Sedra Pamphlet included an invitation to join a Kosher English speaking Heritage Tour to Lithuania after Pesach and as this included the facility to include side visits to family Shtetels, I decided to go. As my family in Israel were unable to accompany me, my wife came albeit as a reluctant traveller. We flew from Leeds Bradford via Amsterdam to Vilnius and spent the first 4 days in Vilna and Kovno. The highlights of that section were the visits to the tomb of the Vilna Gaon, tour and history of the Vilna ghetto, to Ponar where Lithuanians shot 70,000 Jews in pits in the forest and only 3 escaped in chains, Shabbat at the Choral Synagogue conducting the service with Lithuanian Nusach (traditional mode) at the same Bima where world- renowned Chazanim, Gershon Sirota, Mordecai Hershmann and Moshe Kousevitsky had sung 100, 90 and 80 years ago respectively and Kovno Choral Synagogue and the Slobodka ghetto.
We then travelled north to Wilkomar with a statue of a girl on top of a wolf and to Ponevez site of the famous Yeshiva now in Bnei Braq and then east to Shavli where we met 2 sisters holocaust survivors who told us their story and now run the Jewish Centre. Next day we visited the site of Telz Ghetto and Telz Yeshiva, now in Cleveland Ohio and turned off the road towards Alshad – the road was unsuitable for our coach so we went slowly as our guide said “just like a horse and cart” The Shtetel of Alshad never had more than 1000 inhabitants with no more than 300 Jews but it was arranged like most Shtetels with a large square with a market of only 2 stalls and Jewish houses mainly in the square facing outwards for hospitality.
When Zeide Joshua Sobol married Bobbe Sarah Brodie he moved from Shkud to Alshad, the home of Sarah’s parents and next door to Yosef Factor. Joshua’s parents, brothers and sister left for England between 1898 and 1902 and it was Joshua’s intention to follow them in 1914 but they sent on their worldly goods ahead on a boat which sank so they moved to Shad and went 7 years later. The Factors were the only Jews from Alshad who survived the holocaust as they were in involved in leather manufacturing for the occupying armies, but knowing the fate of their fellow Jews they entrusted the two Alshad Sifrei Torah to the local priest who returned them to the Factors after the war. In 1972 when the Factors made Aliya, they took the Sifrei Torah with them and they are now in regular use in Jerusalem
When Father Moshe Saville made Aliya in 1971 he had many happy meetings with Yosef Factor, and brother David Saville has maintained contact wth Yosef’s children who revisted Alshad in 1992 and reported that Zeide Joshua’s house was now a supermarket and that the Factors home was now owned by Dolkinski. When the coach arrived in Alshad we looked for older people who might remember the Factors and one old man remembered that Dolkinski had bought his house from “the zhid” and since Factors were the only Jews left after the holocaust, we identified both houses and found that Zeide Joshua’s house was now a shop rather than a supermarket but as it was May Day (May 1st) the shop was closed. Even my reluctant traveller wife was thrilled to be able to stand in front of our ancestral heim to be photographed. We then went to a memorial forest carved by the last Jew in Plonge to the memory of those killed in the area including 30 Jews from Alshad. Next day we completed the circle by staying in a hotel overlooking the port of Memel from which all the family sailed to North-East England.
Overall impressions were of an excellently organised tour led by 3 professional guides who bounced off each other in their various fields of Gedolei Hatorah and Halacha, Holocaust and European Jewry and Lithuanian local Jewish life and its national history. The bitterly cold weather heightened our empathy with the victims who unlike most of European Jewry were not killed in concentration camps but shot outside each town and village. The forests with tall thin trees gave no hiding places to the Jews and it was a chilling reminder to see so many of them. Our group wore strange clothes like flannelette nighties and extra warm tights and extra layers to keep warm and the clothes which were left in cases on the coach were found to be frozen when unpacked – in early May! The shops were remarkable for their variety of choice but no-one seemed to be buying, even at very cheap prices in our terms. Not many smiled and a lot smoked.. As a final note, the deprivations of cold, food and comfort caused some of the group to become fiercely protective of their food and their coach seats as in ghetto life, but by the last day their was an air of generosity and consideration for others as if we had been released from oppression.
Now over a hundred years after Zeide Joshua married and moved to Alshad, my grandchildren also call me Zeide. Michael Saville Leeds, England