A review of how the Middlesbrough Jewish community fared during the six years of war, would be both useful and interesting. First, we are desirous of placing on record our intense pride at the contribution that our Congregation, though small in numbers, has made to the war effort. Our young men did their duty when the country was fighting for its existence and for the preservation of human freedom and liberty. They were to be found in the Army, Navy and the Royal Air Force, playing their part in a worthy manner. A number received military awards for outstanding gallantry, and we are indeed very proud of them.
Our young women also did their duty in the ranks of the A.T.S., W.A.A.F., W.R.N.S., working on the land, and acting as nurses. Members of our Congregation also shared the duties of Civil Defence, A.R.P., and the Special Constabulary. In all these varied spheres of activities, congregants worked alongside their fellow-citizens.
As regards the activities of the congregation during the war years, one can say with gratitude that every endeavour was made by the Honorary Officers, Committee and Clergy to keep the flagflying, in spite of difficulties. There was a falling off of attendance at Synagogue Services, as was to be expected, owing to members being called up to the colours. Divine Service on Sabbaths, however, was never interrupted, except on one occasion when a time-bomb fell in the vicinity of the Synagogue, and we were not able to use the building for a short time. A number of special services of Intercession and Thanksgiving were held, some of which were well attended, and collections on behalf of the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund, the Red Cross, the Mayor’s Fund, etc., yielded gratifying results.
Owing to the black-out, the Hebrew Classes met only twice a week, on the Sabbath and Sunday morning. There was, however, an extra session each week during the summer months. A number of children were evacuated, but on the whole the congregation did its best under the circumstances to provide religious instruction.
The Board of Guardians continued its work whenever there was need for its services. The interests of the Girls’ Hostel were not overlooked by the Hostel Committee during the war and thanks are due to the heads of this Committee for their exemplary devotion and care on behalf of the children.
During the war a new organisation, the Jewish Representative Council, was formed in Middlesbrough with the vital task of combating anti-Semitism, and a Trades Advisory Committee was also established.
The cause of Zionism and Palestine was not neglected. Appeals on behalf of the Mizrachi and the United Palestine Appeal, bore good results and we managed to hold a few public meetings on Palestine. Money also for the planting of trees in Palestine was collected on different occasions, especially by the Ladies’ J.N.F. Commission and the children.
The ladies of the community organised a War Fund, which did valuable work in making grants from time to time for war causes and outside appeals. These distributions were very much appreciated and in this connection, it is appropriate to quote the words of a former Mayor of Middlesbrough, Councillor Ridley Kitching: “I know,” he said, “we can always rely upon the Hebrew Congregation, especially the ladies, to help any good cause.” One must also mention that the ladies met at certain houses each week to knit comforts which were handed over to the W.V.S. Centre.
The Jewish community in Middlesbrough has also reason to congratulate itself upon the manner in which it extended hospitality to the men in the Services. The Ladies’ Synagogue Guild in particular arranged a number of Socials which were very much appreciated by the men. In addition, private individuals were very generous and kind in offering hospitality whenever necessary. Jewish Chaplains in the area have repeatedly expressed their cordial appreciation at the excellent way in which the community did its duty in this respect.
A scheme was launched during the war which had for its purpose the erection of a Communal Centre, especially for the benefit of the young people. It was felt that one of the best ways of showing our profound appreciation to the homecoming men and women of the Forces, would be the establishment of a Communal Hall where the social and cultural activities of the community could be centred. The idea has the support, we believe, of the majority of the congregants, and those who look ahead and are planning for the future of Middlesbrough Jewry, must see to it that this essential project matures in the near future.
This survey would not be complete without extending a warm welcome to those who are already or about to be demobilised from the Services. We are extremely thankful that they have returned to us in safety. We look forward to those who have spent some time in Palestine and have been eye-witnesses of the gloriously creative work of the building up of a Jewish National Home, to help this movement by taking an active interest in the cause of Zionism. It is also our sincere hope that the released young men and women may be of service to the community in every possible way and that the Congregation will be able to enlist their experience, keenness and enthusiasm for its future well-being.