ACTUALITE JUIVE (National Jewish French Weekly) 13 MAY 1999 MIDDLESBROUGH, COMMUNAUTE VIRTUELLE - par Catherine Garson (Translation)
What does a community which is closing down do, so that its souvenirs do not disappear in the oblivion of history? Perhaps they should set up some form of contact among the former members. This at least is the way chosen by the ex-residents of Middlesbrough, a port town situated in Yorkshire - an industrial area, coal, iron and steel, providing the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge - not exactly your typical English Shtetl.
There was a time when the town of Middlesbrough possessed a flourishing Jewish community of up to 150 families. Alas, the years have passed on and the majority of its Jews in its 124 year old history have either passed on or have gone to live elsewhere.
The first day of November last saw the official closure of the Community attended by the last Jewish residents (less than 30 with an average age of 80), who were joined by former members coming from other parts of England, Israel and the United States. One of whom, David Saville, was to take two of the remaining Sifrei Torah for a synagogue in the Pisgat Zeev Quarter of Jerusalem. Already in 1987, another Middlesbrough Sefer Torah had followed the same route to the Holy City. So, was this the end of the story?
Well, the following month a group of 40 ex-residents met in Jerusalem for an evening dedicated to Middlesbrough. First, there is a video showing the closure ceremony, together with an exhibition of photos and press cuttings of the former community. They participate in a quiz which only a native could work out - eg, who sat in the Shul in the last row on the, Mizrach side and who was the last person to Duchan there. During the celebrations, which were festive-the evening took place at the termination of Chanuka-the question was discussed as to what this Kehila, without a synagogue, should do in the future.
It was decided to produce a quarterly newsletter for Middlesbrough people worldwide. David Saville and Donald Wiseman took the matter in hand. "Who knows", said the first edition, "perhaps a new kind of floating Kehila has been formed". What is certain is that the response to the Newsletter - 200 copies - was enthusiastic. All sorts of letters started coming in. Louis Smollan from the South of England writes of attending cheder in the twenties, where his friend Eric Jaffa always hides a comic inside his Chumash, and Fred Levy of Liverpool talks of meeting with his friends, the Kindertransport Girls, in 1939, who were looked after by the Community, in the local park next to the Shul. Finally, Ian Cohen of Elkana, Israel, grandson of two Hazanim in the Community, wants to know of his roots and particularly his grandfather's music.
Perhaps this floating Kehilla has been re-born after all.
From the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette "Remember When" Saturday 30th October 1999
YOU CAN take a man out of Middlesbrough, but you can’t take Middlesbrough out of a man . . . you’ve heard the saying and it’s true wherever they are.
But will it be the same for the present generation, ask those who have their roots in the Boro’ but have left for other shores? “I feel sorry that our three daughters can never have the memories that I have,” says Beryl Shapiro (nee Freeman), of Toronto. The kind of memories, for instance, which Ronnie Goodman has of his parents’ shoe shop on Cannon Street or Harold Claff of London has of his father William keeping Jack Robinson’s chemists’ shop in the town centre.
Some, like Louis Smollan, have memories of characters like Bency Simon, a large man who never changed his waistcoat which was caked with snuff, as a result of his snuff-taking habit. What is remarkable about such reminiscences is that they are shared in a unique way by folk who were once members of Middlesbrough’s Hebrew congregation whose synagogue closed in November last year.
They and many others with Teesside links share their memories via a newsletter published in Jerusalem for the Middlesbrough ‘diaspora.’ JEWISH FAITH The idea has been masterminded by Middlesbrough-born lawyer David Saville, now living in Jerusalem, helped by publisher Donald Wiseman. Launched earlier this year, the newsletter has attracted 260 subscribers world wide who reminisce about the synagogue, especially cheder, sessions in which young people are trained in the Jewish faith. Peter Niman, of Newcastle, recalls being taught by Sam Solomons and getting a clip across the ear for misbehaviour. Another reader Michael Niman, of London, tells of ther day when the Rev Bernard Kersh, who was partial to an odd drink or two, was stopped by a Catholic policeman who spotted his dog collar, asked for forgiveness and begged the ‘Father' to bless him. The quick-thinking minister translated an appropriate Hebrew prayer, waved to the bobby in Catholic fashion - and drove off! One reader regrets never having visited the synagogue before its closure.
Writing from California, actress Miriam Margolyes believes her grandfather Sigismund Sandeman was the first Middlesbrough-born Jew - born in 1867.
The newsletter now has its own website on www.northeastjewish.org.uk/ middlesbrough.
It seems that you can close down a synagogue, but the ‘virtual’ Hebrew congregation lives on - electronically.
Jewish Chronicle August 25, 2000
Former Cheder pals set up Website
New lease of life for community
The Middlesbrough Jewish Community is enjoying a new lease of life in virtual format.
Its only synagogue closed in 1998 but two former Middlesbrough cheder classmates began a newsletter which they circulated to more than 300 readers worldwide.
Now Donald Wiseman, 57 and David Saville, 58both of whom live in Israel, have decided to move the newsletter’s publication onto a website which they have set up.
Speaking from Jerusalem this week, Mr Wiseman, a retired lawyer, explained “We organised a reunion in Jerusalem last year after we found out that about 40 former members lived in Israel.
Many of our readers new nothing about Middlesbrough’s history until they started reading the newsletter — the beginnings in 1874, involvement in the kindertransport and that virtually all the adult male population fought for the country in the Second World War.
Although the newsletter is now moving onto the website, the momentum has enabled life after the 1998 closure to carry on.
Mr. Wiseman said that he and Mr. Saville had received letters as well as e-mails from former Middlesbrough members around the world.
After the first newsletter the response ballooned. We have been surprised and delighted at how popular it has been.
The website will serve both as a continuing contact point for the community and as an archive.
It will hopefully enable the next generation to learn something of their roots and heritage and that there is more to the city than just a football team.