Who are the Jews?

Imagine you are a Jew

There are Jews and Jews and Jews

Very Orthodox (Charedi or Chasidim)

Orthodox (Mainstream Judaism)

Progressive ( Reform and Liberal)

Another Major Division

Yet one more Division

Other Jews

Jews In Medieval Bury St Edmunds

A Palm for Bury St Edmunds and for the fifty seven Jews slaughtered there on Palm Sunday 1190

Lowestoft and the Kindertransport

“Growing up under German Occupation”

Jain Declaration on nature

The Revival of Jewish Community in Suffolk

Suffolk Jewish Community

Barry Spivack’s Story

Being Jewish in Suffolk

Jewish Reflections


The Jews are a group of people tracing their origins back many thousands of years to biblical times.  They are not a race in the physical sense as there are Jews of every colour and racial category.  They are a people united by a common religion, Judaism, and by a historical and traditional culture.  The religious practices as well as the traditions vary, often considerably, among the Jews, but they are united by an overall concept of Jewish identity that is hard to define.

The Jewish legal (halachic) definition of a Jew is one that is born of a Jewish mother.  This definition is accepted by all branches of Judaism.  The status of a person converted to Judaism, on the other hand, depends on the authority of the body carrying out the conversion, and may not be universally accepted.


You believe in One God.

You trace the origins of your faith to Abraham,
and share with other Jews
a strong sense of family and community.

Your Bible (the Christian Old Testament)
is known as the Tanakh.

but most sacred are the first five books,
the Torah, the five books of Moses.

You celebrate the weekly Sabbath
(Friday sunset to Saturday sunset)
and many other festivals.

You observe an annual 25 hour fast,
at Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

The synagogue is your place of worship and study,
but your home is equally sanctified.

Many acts of worship are conducted in your home.

You believe that you should love God
and your neighbour,
and make the most of the life
which God has given you.

As for what happens afterwards,
that is in God’s hands.

_Pic3The seven branched candlestick (Menorah) is an ancient artefact of the Jewish faith which has become a symbol for Judaism. It was first mentioned in the book of Exodus and was one of the sacred objects in the temple at Jerusalem which was destroyed when the Romans sacked the city in 70CE. At the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, a special nine branched Menorah, called a Hanukkiah, is lit.



Although we use the term ‘Jew’ to identify a person of the Jewish faith, there are a number of different groups with significantly different religious beliefs and practices.  Just as there are different groupings in the Christian Church, and ‘shadings’ within those groups, so it is with Judaism.  It is convenient to divide Jews up into four main groups.


These are the pious Jews who live their lives strictly in accordance with the Torah, the God given laws.  They observe every minute detail of these laws and fashion their way of living accordingly.  Because of the special facilities essential to their way of life such as Kosher food and access to a nearby Synagogue, they live in tightly knit communities, having their own schools, and often having little contact with the other Jewish communities.  They are often distinguishable by their archaic manner of dress which dates back to 19th Century Poland, the flowing beards of the men and the modest appearance of the women.  Among this community, however, are some who engage in the normal business and professional activities while still maintaining their strict adherence to orthodox practices.


The majority of Jews in Great Britain identify with this group.  While observing the laws of the Torah the degree of adherence does vary among individuals depending on their circumstances.  Many, such as the Chief Rabbi who heads this group, are strictly observant while others, although mindful of their obligations, fall short in their practices.  Most Jews in this group belong to the United Synagogues of Great Britain (similar in concept to the Church of England), or to various affiliated bodies.  Legal matters affecting Jewish Law are decided by a court of Judges known as the Beth Din (House of Judgement) whose rulings are final.  There are no distinguishing features of dress or behaviour to identify orthodox Jews other than the practice of some who wear a yarmulka ( a small skull cap) at all times.


From a movement which began in Germany in the 19th Century there has developed a form of Judaism based on the concept that the Laws are the words of man inspired by God, and that the Torah was written by several different people.  Whereas Orthodox Judaism more or less codified itself in the 16th century, the progressive Jews feel that Judaism has to adapt itself to modern times and conditions in order to be more meaningful.  The principal groups in the United Kingdom are the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain and the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues.  Practices and forms of service vary from the orthodox traditions, with less emphasis on the traditional rites such as the separation of men and women in the Synagogue.  These movements have their own courts and rites of conversion which are not generally accepted by the orthodox movements.  A distinguishing feature of note is the acceptance of female Rabbis in the movements.  Both bodies publish their own form of prayer book which include modern prayers and other spiritual writings which are not found in the traditional prayer books.


Quite apart from their religious affiliations Jews are divided into two “ethnic” groups, the Ashkenazim who originated mainly from Eastern Europe, and the Sephardim whose origins are Spain and North Africa.  In the UK the Jews are mostly Ashkenazi having arrived during the mass immigration from Europe during the first half of the 20th Century as a result of the repression and pogroms in Germany and Eastern Europe.  The Sephardi Jews, however, have lived in the UK since 1654 when England readmitted the Jews to this country.


Although the destruction of Herod’s Temple by the Romans effectively ended the actual Priesthood in Judaism, nevertheless their descendants, through the male line of the Priests ( Cohanim) and the Levites, remain with us today and have a few formal religious duties which distinguish them from the main body of Jews, the Israelites.


There are also a considerable number of non-affiliated Jews, who are legally Jewish by birth but are secular in their practices and who do not involve themselves on a regular basis, or even at all, with the Jewish communities.



In the 12th century a Jewish community grew up in Hatter Street - known in those days as Heathenmans Street.  The community’s fortunes were closely linked to those of the famous monastery: the Jews lent money for building work and in return were allowed to deposit their deeds and money in the Abbey’s treasury, and to shelter their families in the precincts in times of danger.

During the slack rule of Abbot Hugh (1173–80), however, the monastery fell deeply into debt, to the Jews of Norwich as well as those of Bury.  Hugh’s successor, Abbot Samson, set about freeing it from these debts.  At the same time, in 1181, a choirboy named Robert was murdered and - as was the sad custom of those days - the blame was laid at the feet of the Jews.  Nine years later, on Palm Sunday 1190, at a time when King Richard I was mustering a force to join him on the third crusade, 57 of the town’s Jews were massacred.  It is possible that they fled to the Abbey to seek the protection of the king, to which they were entitled, but Samson is on record as having declared that “the Abbey was not the King’s property and the Jews were not St Edmund’s men.”

In 1190 the Abbot procured a royal writ to expel the survivors on the grounds that all inhabitants ought to be vassals of St. Edmund – the first occurrence of its kind in England. The whole episode became famous through Carlyle's account in Past and Present (1843).

It is sometimes suggested that Moyse's Hall, in the market place, was the medieval synagogue, but Robert Butterworth argues in his book Not St Edmunds’s Men that this is much more likely to have been a Jewish merchant’s house, with their synagogue being sited in Hatter Street – possibly on the site of no. 25, to accord as closely as possible with the Talmudic instruction “to elevate the synagogue beyond the highest building in the town”.

When, in 1197, King Richard was succeeded by his brother John, permission was granted for the Jews to return.  It is clear that some did so from the record of the last recorded miracle attributed to St Edmund: round about the year 1210 a woman attempting to steal money from the saint’s shrine is said to have found her lips stuck to the collecting plate, and this was witnessed “by Christians and Jews all that day”.  Any who were in the town in 1290, though, will have been compelled to leave when Edward I ordered the expulsion of all the Jews in the country.

Jewish families have no doubt been living in and around Bury since their return in the 17th century, though they have not lived as an organised community, or had a synagogue here in that time.

A holocaust memorial service has been held in the Abbey Gardens on 17th January, Holocaust Memorial Day, since 2001.  It is attended by members of all faiths, and children from local schools plant snowdrops as part of the service.  A plaque has been placed there “In memory of all the victims of genocide, atrocities and crimes against humanity”.

The area where the service is held, just inside the Abbey Gate, is unkempt, however, and a group is currently working to raise £10,000 for the creation of a memorial garden there which will commemorate all victims, as on the plaque, but also make specific mention of the 57 Jews who were massacred nearby in the 12th century.  It will be the first memorial to the event and, it is hoped, make some amends for the scarcity of references to it in the literature.  A page is being set up in the name of the Garden Memorial Fund on the Just Giving website.

And rounding things off, a poem connecting the events of 1190 with the present day - written by Elizabeth Cook, the Cathedral’s Poet in Residence - was read in the recent 2013 Palm Sunday service.


Not Saint Edmund’s Men, by Robert Butterworth

Encyclopaedia Judaica, quoted in the online Jewish Virtual Library

A Palm for Bury St Edmunds
and for the fifty seven Jews slaughtered there on Palm Sunday 1190

Our childhood palms were of pussy-willow,
we drew their soft buds of moon-
silver velvet across our lips, felt their caress,
and laid them at no one's feet but tucked them
into prayer books, Bibles, behind holy

They were living limbs, whole branches,
and hands of palm with sharp green blades
that they tore from the trees
in a frenzy of welcome when the Lord rode
into Jerusalem on the bony back
of a donkey.


The hilt of a Crusader's sword casts the shadow
of a cross on the Abbey wall.
In a frenzy of passion they unsheath their swords,
and with sharp blades run through
fifty seven men and women
from Heathenman Street

- home to the Jews of St Edmunds Bury.
'Down with them, Down with them.
Death to the heathen, the Turk and the Jew.'
That was the cry as neighbour slew neighbour
that blood-stained Palm Sunday of March
eleven ninety.


Heathenman Street is Hatter Street now with cafés and flowers
and the palms we hold up to be sperged are dead ones,
real ones,  expertly folded into neat crosses,
their blades tucked away. They'll keep
till the flames of next year consume them, usher Lent in
with their ash.

They were live limbs, whole branches,
and hands of palm with their sharp green blades
that they tore from the trees
in a frenzy of welcome.
In less than a week
they will kill him.

© Elizabeth Cook
Poet in Residence at St Edmundsbury Cathedral


Lowestoft and the Kindertransport

Remembering 1 .jpg


“Growing up under German Occupation”

A talk delivered by Frank Bright to the Suffolk Jewish Community
on Friday, 2nd August 2013 in the Salvation Army Citadel, Ipswich.

I was introduced as Frank Bright.  I wasn’t always Frank Bright.  That is my anglicised name.  People found my original name difficult to pronounce, I had to spell it all the time, I felt that I ought to make life easier for my fellow men and women, as well as for myself, and so I changed it by Deed Poll in 1952.

My name at birth was Franz Brichta, my place of birth was Berlin and my date of birth was October 1928 which makes me nearly 85 years of age.

Here is my birth certificate.  It is in Gothic script.  The Germans, even in their pre-Nazi era, wanted to be different, thought of themselves as better than anybody else, looked down on everybody else and one way of doing that was to have a, what we now call “font”, of their own even if it is far more ornate and not as easy to read as the plain Roman script used by everybody else.

What you ought to bear in mind is that, with such a birth certificate, issued to a Jewish baby around that time, came a death sentence, a death sentence carried out without compunction, or the slightest hesitation, on those, to the German mind, of an inferior race.  I use the word “race” on purpose because the Germans did not recognise “faith” as defining whether a man, woman or child was Jewish or German, or rather “Aryan”.  In that respect, I am an exception, I am one of the very few who escaped the death sentence, and it was not for want of trying by the Germans.  I am an exception which proves the rule.  The rule was that a Jewish child did not survive.  Of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Germans, 1½ million were children.

“Aryan”, or “Arier” in German, was the important term the Germans used to define their own race as distinct from other, and to their mind inferior, races.  Jews, by their definition were not, and could not be Germans, even though German Jews had fought in the German army, air force and navy during the First World War and had done so for what they believed was their fatherland and for their emperor.

My grandfather, on my mother’s side, had been a Prussian volunteer during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871.  He did so because he considered himself to be, and his fellow Prussians agreed with it at the time, first and foremost a Prussian, one of the Jewish religion.  His son, my uncle Fritz, served in the German navy throughout the First World War and was decorated with an Iron Cross.  In gratitude for services rendered he was sent to Auschwitz and death on 3rd March 1943 after he and his wife, my aunt, had to carry out forced labour for at least three years, in the Berlin branches of armament factories.  They were made to live in a sparsely furnished room, were not permitted into air-raid shelters during the many air-raids, had to walk to work, had fewer rations than everybody else, could not buy shoes or protective clothing because Jews did not receive clothing coupons, could only do their shopping between 4 and 5 in the afternoon.  On 21st January 1939 they had to hand in all of their jewellery, items made of gold, silver, platinum, and pearls.  In his previous life he had worked his way up and had been a director of the Dresdner Bank.

All this sincere attempt by Jews to assimilate, to win Nobel prizes for Germany, to win medals at the Olympic Games for Germany, to fight and to die for Germany, all this was swept aside, not only by the Nazi party, but also by the many Germans who had voted the Nazi party into power, thus providing it with the largest number of seats in the German parliament.

Until that moment everything the Nazi party had achieved had been achieved legitimately by democratic means.  Nobody had forced the German people to vote for the Nazi party; they had done so quite voluntarily, of their own free will, because the Nazi programme had appealed to them.

What was the Nazi programme which won them the election of the 6th of November 1932?  It was first and foremost rearmament on a vast scale, a large standing army, a most modern air force, the construction of a fleet of the most modern battleships, U-Boats, supply ships, motor-torpedo boats, tanks of all types and guns of every type of which the 88mm gun has never been surpassed both as an artillery piece and as an anti-aircraft gun.  They wanted another war.  They had done everything to prepare for and to win the First World War and had lost.  They needed a scapegoat for that loss.

Naturally, they should not have started World War One which resulted in their invasion of Belgium and of Northern France, particularly of Flanders, which was completely demolished, burnt and churned up.  They didn’t want to see it that way or that their war had not taken place on German soil.  They could have blamed their Field-Marshalls and generals for their incompetence.  They didn’t want to see it that way either.

As had been the case for over a thousand years, the Jews were turned into scape goats and that fell on very receptive ears.

Thus the Nazi programme consisted, apart from their vast rearmament works, of a virulent anti-Semitism.  Jews were blamed for every one of their misfortunes, real or imagined, under the sun.  The purpose of this virulent  and criminal anti-semitism was two-fold: Firstly to remove Jews from every post.  Right from the beginning, within three months after they had usurped absolute power, the universities, primary and secondary schools, the stage, orchestras, the judiciary, the civil service, were purged of Jews who were dismissed without a pension, and authors, doctors, veterinary surgeons, medical doctors, lawyers, dentists, pharmacists, art dealers, etc.  were prohibited from carrying on their profession.  That resulted, as intended, of jobs for the boys and penury for Jews.  Shops, workshops, factories, laboratories, farm, woodlands, any property, were “aryanised”.  That meant that the owners were simply turfed out.  That too resulted in jobs for the boys.  The aim was to remove Jews from all of civic life and to turn them into outcasts, only fit for forced labour in the many armament factories with names like Siemens, Benz, BMW, AEG, Volkswagen, etc.  The propaganda theme was that Jews were exploiting Germans.  The fact was that Germans exploited Jews.  The other purpose was to rob Jews of every item of their possessions.

The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 forbade the marriage between Jews and Germans and also defined the status of children of a “mixed” marriage, classifying them into “Mischlinge”, or of “mixed” race, of the 1st and 2nd degree.  I was only a common or garden Jewish child but for those from a so-called mixed marriage the degree of Aryan blood mattered.

For instance Fritz Behrendt and his elder brother Hans had only one Jewish grandmother.  They were thus of the second degree.  Both had to serve in the German air force but were not sent to the front as their 16% impurity of blood precluded them from dying a hero’s death for the Führer.  Thus they survived thanks to their Jewish grandmother.

It took next to no time to construct concentration camps.  The first one, Dachau, near Munich, was opened on the 9th of March 1933.  Starting from 30th January 1933, the day Hitler became Chancellor and promptly took on dictatorial powers by declaring a state of emergency, it had taken 5 weeks for its torture chambers to receive their first victims.  They dispensed with planning permission and public consultation.  Both were superfluous anyway, the German people, or Volk, agreed with its construction, and with all subsequent ones anyway, and plenty of sadistic operators were found to flog, beat, starve, torture, hang and shoot its innocent prisoners without having to advertise and interview for such jobs.

They also made sure that the terror they inflicted became well known very quickly and the letters KZ (Ka-Tset) and what they represented, became a threat overnight.  It even frightened a 5-year old, like myself.  Just like the word “hell” in medieval times, it was not precisely defined but certainly sounded evil and was to be feared.  In Dante’s “Inferno” the inscription above the entrance to hell “Abandon hope, you who enter here” would have been far more appropriate for the entrance to any of the many German concentration camps than the cynical “Work sets you free”.

 I started primary school in April 1935, at the age of 6½.  It was a Jewish school, newly established to absorb those Jewish children whose stay at German schools had been made impossible by the brutality of their Aryan German classmates and of their teachers.

Referring again to Fritz Behrendt and his brother, both of whom were older than me and who had transferred from just such a school to my school, on the day after Hitler had been made Chancellor their teacher appeared in the SA’s brownshirt uniform and told the class about the “new era” which was to unfold, and fellow pupils too appeared in the uniform of the Hitlerjugend, bought by their parents well in advance of the day they had been looking forward to.  National Socialism, the proper name for Nazism, its abbreviated form, was not forced on Germans, they took to it, and to the criminal outlook it stood for, like ducks take to water.

I now know that my 1st-year teacher committed suicide in 1942, preferring an overdose of sleeping tablets to being sent East and murdered there.  My 2nd and 3rd year teacher had to carry out forced labour for a removal firm after the school was closed in June of 1942; after that he was sent to Auschwitz and death in January of 1943.

To emigrate, to get out, to flee, to save your family and yourself from a constantly worsening situation, was the answer which dawned on most Jews once they had realised that their honestly and sincerely held belief that they were Germans had proved to have been an illusion.  But it was only a theoretical answer.  The real and actual problems facing would-be emigrants were manifold and often impossible to overcome, apart from family ties and the human desire and duty to look after elderly parents.

1) The Germans demanded an exit tax which you had to pay before you were issued with a passport - a passport which had a large “J” printed inside it, something the Swiss had insisted on.  You had to pay that tax, or Reichsfluchtsteuer, the tax on fleeing Germany, before they issued an exit permit.  That tax left you poor.

2) You needed a visa from a foreign government.  Foreign governments didn’t want poor immigrants, although being a Jew was the greatest obstacle.

3) In fact foreign governments didn’t want any Jews.  Full stop.  Our plight was well known.  Until the outbreak of the war reporters were free to come and go and report to their newspapers what they saw.  It made no difference.

Canada said that one Jewish immigrant was one too many.

Australia had a “whites only” policy and, following the German example, Jews were not recognised as being white.  That continued until well after the war.

South Africa had a racist policy of her own and had a Boer, i.e.  a pro-German government.  After all the Germans had helped the Boers to fight the British during the Boer War (1899-1902).

The South American republics demanded a baptism certificate, something Jews could obviously not provide.  On the other hand members of the SS did provide such certificates and entered South America in droves, including Eichmann.

The United States were particularly obstructive.  They had a system of annual quotas, meant to keep Jews out, which it did.  They were not going to budge.  A typical example were the Blochs.  They lived on the ground floor of our block of flats in Prague and had registered for immigration at the US Consulate in Prague after the German occupation of March 1939.  The parents were murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.  Only their son Gottfried survived and that only because he was a young medical doctor although he had been prevented from taking his finals by the German students of the German Charles University in Prague, which Gottfried had attended.  The Nazis were in control even before the invasion.  He went through the ghetto, Auschwitz and Buchenwald.  He wrote a book on his experiences called “Unfree Associations, a Psychoanalyst Recollects the Holocaust”.  I can recommend it.

It took 17 years before his turn for a US entry visa came up.  By that time he had got married, had a daughter, had lived in Israel since 1949 and was a psychologist attached to the Israeli Defence Force.  Anybody applying in 1939 needed it then and there.  There would not be any other applications for the next six years anyway, although that was unforeseeable.  To make you wait longer, knowing full well what the situation was, meant that you were not wanted.

There is an inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour.  It is by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish American poetess.  It reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.  But that applied only to the huddled masses who were not Jewish.

Then there was Palestine, the obvious choice for historical and religious reasons, for Jews, particularly for young Jews, to make the desert bloom again after centuries of Arab and Turkish neglect, and to establish a state there to avoid having to ask others for protection in the case of persecution and receiving a cold shoulder.

The old story of Israel is a sad one.  Israel took on the might of the Roman Empire and, not surprisingly, lost.  But it is also difficult to argue that it could have done anything else.  It resulted in the destruction of the 2nd Temple, the carting away of the Temple treasures, as can be seen to this day in stone on the Arch of Titus in Rome.  There was the dispersion of its inhabitants although many stayed on.  The early Christian writers, certainly the gospel writers who were Jews, wrote around 100 AD.

Then came the Arab Muslim conquerors; then, for a short time, the Crusaders around 1100 AD.  The Crusaders murdered Jews.  The Crusaders were defeated by Saladin and 600 of the knights who had surrendered were beheaded.  Saladin decreed that each of his Muslim clerics had to behead at least one Christian Crusader.  That explains the way a British soldier was murdered the other day in London.

Then came the Turks who let the country go to waste until their Ottoman Empire fell apart in 1917.

General Allenby took Palestine from the Turks and occupied Palestine, all of it, both sides of the River Jordan.  The then British Prime Minister, Lord Balfour, declared that all of that area would once more become a Jewish homeland.

Although the League of Nations and other international conferences confirmed that, Britain went back on her word and created, quite unilaterally, the Kingdom of Jordan and prohibited the settling of Jews on that side of the Jordan, restricting them to the narrow strip between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

Around 1935 the Mufti of Jerusalem, a great friend of Herr Hitler, started the Arab Revolt.  Please note that it was called the Arab Revolt, not the Palestinian Revolt.  Everybody who lived there at the time, Jew, Christian and Arab, was “a Palestinian”.  The revolt, quite violent, was against Jewish immigration.  Arab violence, which meant and means murder of farmers tilling their fields as well as shooting dead British administration officers, is nothing new.  In 1929 they slaughtered Jews in Hebron and, rather than protect the remainder, the British ordered them to leave.  A campaign of terrorism also started in 1929 with the call to the Arab masses of “Izbah Al-Yahud!” – “Slaughter the Jews!”.  Nothing has changed.

The response to the Arab Revolt was the usual Commission of Enquiry and its Report, a White Paper.  The easy way out, the way usually taken, was to cave in to Arab demands by restricting Jewish immigration to a trickle, or to put it another way, shut the door in our faces at the hour of our greatest need.

It is also perfectly true to say that those prevented from entering Palestine went up through the chimneys of Auschwitz.  The Arabs may not have done so themselves but they did so vicariously, they let the Germans do it.  But for the Arab Revolt at least a hundred thousand would have found a safe haven there.  Anybody trying to enter Palestine before, during and after the war was apprehended and imprisoned on the charge of being an “illegal immigrant” and sent to an old prison on the island of Mauritius where many died.  Those who survived this open-ended sentence were not released at the end of the war either.  Only on the establishment of the State of Israel three years later was that done.  Their crime? To have tried to escape from the Nazis.  That was an offence so horrid that it could only be countered with an administrative order, not with a  proper trial, a judge and a jury or what is called “due process”, available to any petty thief but not to Jews.

The book, the film and the real story of the immigrant ship, an old rusty bucket only fit for the scrap yard, the “Exodus” was one of many.  It was intercepted on the high seas by the Royal Navy which returned its passengers, all survivors of the Holocaust, to camps in Germany and on the island of Cyprus, where they were put once again behind barbed wire.  It is also true that, while Bomber Command put their lives on the line every day and night and received no recognition at all until last year, the crew of R.N.  ships which hunted down and imprisoned defenceless Jews received a medal for their participation in the “Palestine Patrol”.  With friends like that, who needed enemies?

It is not surprising that as a young person I felt “not wanted”, an “outsider” and “not belonging” to a people who had a home or a state or a country of their own.

So what do I remember of Berlin between, say 1934, when I was 6 years old, and 1938, when we left Prague and I was 9 years old.

First of all there were those cartoons in display cases at street corners showing terribly ugly Jews doing apparently terrible things to very innocent looking German boys and girls.  In these cartoons, the Jews sported either a Soviet Russian army cap or a top hat covered with the Stars and Stripes, thus accusing Jews of being Bolsheviks (an earlier name for Communists) or being Plutocrats (another name for Capitalists).  I found both versions confusing and threatening.  Even I knew that German youth in their Hitlerjugend uniforms were anything but innocent because they sang “Wenn’s Judenblut vom Messer spritzt dann gehts nochmal so gut” which, roughly translates “When Jewish blood squirts from the knife things can only improve”.

I also knew that Communism and Capitalism are mutually exclusive.  If we are being accused of being both at the same time then the cartoonist got it all wrong.  Also, and adding to confusion, none of my Jewish relatives, friends, acquaintances, schoolmates, present or past as seen on family photos, were ugly, some were positively good looking.  Looking back at one of the few photos I have of myself of which my first day at school is an example, did I look anything like the way the German cartoonist portrayed me and every other Jew? If he was wrong in that then he was wrong in everything else.  Yet that was standard German propaganda fare and they believed it and Dr.  Göbbels, their Propaganda, or improper-ganda Minister, was cheered to the rafters every time he spewed this bilge.

I also remember that everybody was in uniform, the SA in brown, the brownshirts, the SS in black, the army in field grey with their jackboots with which they intended to trample all over Europe, something they soon did, the Hitler Youth in brown.  Uniforms meant war.  By 1933 they wanted war.  The last one had come to an end only 15 years earlier.  What sort of mentality was that?

Then there were war-like toys for tiny tots.  German children didn’t play with rubber ducks in the bath, they played with toy submarines.  Wound up they would dive and surface at the far end of the bath.  I had one.  I also had a toy bomber which, when wound up, would fly round and round, suspended from a string fixed to the ceiling, and drop four bombs loaded with percussion caps one after another.  A portent of things to come, though they didn’t realise that it would happen to them as well.

I remember an air-raid exercise using a small phosphor incendiary bomb, at a time when the rest of Europe wanted peace.

I was the product of my environment.  From the very beginning to the end of the war, when I was 16½, I experienced nothing but threats, violence and was looked upon as sub-human.  I experienced discrimination, hunger and deprivation.  I was done out of an education, robbed of everything, and saw the perpetrators go free and die in their beds - something they had denied to us.

I have to go quickly over my early days in Prague and the Munich Agreement which sealed our fate and that of Europe and Russia.  It most certainly did not provide the “peace in our time” and “peace with honour” as pronounced by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of paper while alighting from a plane after talks with Herr Hitler who had assured that gullible man that “he had no further territorial demands”.  The handing over of the Sudeten part of the Czechoslovak Republic, or the giving away of land which wasn’t his to give away, had serious consequences, costing the lives of millions of people, quite apart from the  6 million Jews, and it also enabled the Soviet Empire to expand into Europe and to rule behind the Iron Curtain for over 40 years.

Prague in 1938 was full of poor refugees.  There were Jews from Germany, from Austria which had been incorporated into the Reich in March of 1938 to the jubilant acclamation of its non-Jewish population, and from the Sudeten, which had likewise been incorporated into the German Reich in October of 1938 by an act of treason.  These refugees had nowhere else to go because, as already mentioned and as embedded in my psyche, nobody wanted them.  They were allowed to enter but that was all the Czechs could, or would, do.  They had troubles of their own.  All of us were trapped.

A quick look at the map of the lay of the land after Munich shows the trap.  Bohemia and

Moravia was surrounded by an aggressive Germany on all sides.  To seal its fate completely, Slovakia declared independence under a Catholic parish priest, who was also the leader of a fascist party, father Tišo.  He called on Herr Hitler for assistance, which the latter naturally and gladly provided, it had been his idea in the first place.  It was like playing drafts.  One piece after another disappeared from the map, sometimes two or three were taken at the same time.

We rented a small one-bedroom flat in a newly-finished 6-storey block, I started to learn Czech and also started to attend a Jewish school again and we lived, and suffered, under the ever increasing list of restrictions.  Anything from fewer rations, no clothing coupons, a short shopping hour in the afternoon, a curfew at 8pm, having to wear a yellow star, being prohibited from using public transport, from using telephones, having to hand in radios, bicycles, sewing machines, typewriters, musical instruments, also gramophones and records, woollens, cameras, binoculars, not being allocated shaving soap, nor any type of fruit and fish or onions, even dried ones, prohibited from visiting a barber and barbers being prohibited from visiting Jews.  We were not permitted to read Czech newspapers and to be found in possession of a German paper was a criminal offence.  There were streets which were closed to us, as were swimming pools, hospitals and attendance at public performances.  Jewish doctors, lawyers, patent agents, veterinary surgeons, dentists and dental technicians, teachers, professors, chemists, etc.  were permitted to cater to Jewish clients only and only a very small number were allowed to practice at all.  The contents of doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries were seized.  Bank accounts were frozen, shares were seized, as were life policies and savings accounts.  We had to hand in all items made of precious metal including gold, platinum and silver as well as diamonds and pearls, e.g.  pocket watches with fob and chain, as men used to wear, necklaces, rings, tie pins, silver cigarette cases, (people, at least men, used to smoke), ear rings, bracelets, the lot.

Records were kept and are available on the internet.  I worked out that, using January 2012 prices, the value of that robbery from that small area alone was worth over £78 million.  To that one has to add the loot from German, Austrian, Polish, Russian, French, Dutch, Belgian and other Jews and the value of the loot is enormous.  No offer of restitution or compensation was ever made to even the few survivors.

Here I must add that not only were we constantly hungry, the bread ration was far too small, but the total absence of vegetables, fruit and fish meant that we had no access to vitamins and minerals and therefore the body’s resistance to bacterial infection was reduced and we were very prone to boils.  Small cuts which one does not even notice to-day turned septic.

Then the dreaded transports started.  First to the ghetto of Lodž in Poland, where out of 5,000 people only 276 lived to see liberation.  After those first five transports everybody was sent first to the ghetto of Theresienstadt, or Terezín in Czech, which was really a transit camp with constant coming and going.

I shall give you a few statistics which you should not find boring because every one of them was a human being worthy of life and whose life was brutally extinguished by Germans after they had been exploited and all of their property had been taken.

Looking only at the German-occupied so-called Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, 114 transports left the area between 16th October 1941 and the 13th July 1943, a period of 21 months or one transport every 5 to 6 days.  On board were 75,630 Jewish men women and children of whom 69,772 were murdered and 6,362 survived until liberation.  The average death rate was 91.6% or for every 1,000 persons deported 916 were murdered.  And that from a small area which you have a job trying to find on a map.

Those who arrived in the transit ghetto of Theresienstadt faced the real prospect of further transportation to the unknown East from which no traveller had ever returned.  Of the 139, 517 Jews who arrived in the ghetto from the Protectorate, from Germany, from Austria, Holland and Denmark      87, 063 were deported to the East, first to extermination camps, later to Auschwitz where some were selected for slave labour.

There were 63 transports from the ghetto to the East between 9th January 1942 and 28th October 1944, or within 2 years and 9 months.  Of the over 87,000 men women and children sent East from the ghetto 3,097 survived, an average death rate of 96½%, or a survival rate of 3½%.  That is an average and should be put into the context of extermination.  Thus:

Of 10 transports carrying 18,004 people to Treblinka during September and October 1942 not a single person survived, and of 3 transports carrying 3,000 people to Trostinec during August and September 1942 only one person survived.

 Some, mostly who were not there, call the ghetto of Thersienstadt a concentration camp and also that it was all singing and dancing, just because it suited the Germans to hand out a few musical instruments which they had already looted from Jewish homes.  That is nonsense.  It was, as I have shown, first and foremost a transit camp where many people, most of the elderly, died.  They were starved to death and, if they came from Germany, arrived in an already weak state.  Thus of the 139, 517 who arrived in the ghetto 33,521 died in the ghetto, that is 24% or a quarter.  That is an average.  If we look at it more closely then, of the 42,921 Jews from Germany, no fewer than 20,848 or 48.6% died in the ghetto, and that is nearly half.

 In the ghetto I shared a small room with 6 other boys of my age and I worked in a workshop repairing locks and making keys and hinges.  My parents were separated.  My mother had to share a large room in one of the old brick barrack buildings dating from the 1790s with something like a hundred women, all coughing, sneezing, talking in their sleep and snoring, with those near the window wanting it shut and those away from the window wanting it open.  There were double bunks very close together without any space for one’s few belongings.  For years in Prague she had been on her own all day, looking forward to our return from work and school.  To her, being suddenly among so many strangers, must have been particularly painful.  My father shared a smaller, but still claustrophobic, room with other men.  At least one still had one’s own clothes, even if few of them, as the duffle bag one was allowed to bring into the ghetto was small and most of that space was taken up with the blankets one was recommended to pack.

For me it was unpleasant being torn from the familiar four walls which gave one privacy and being turfed into the turmoil and conditions of the ghetto, being separated from one’s parents, not being able to help them and seeing them suffer, mainly from hunger.  Everything though is relative.  In spite of the privations, looking back on it, in comparison with, and viewed from a real concentration camp many of us found ourselves in later on, the ghetto had been sheer paradise.

I was fortunate in that in the room I shared with 6 other boys for a few months one of the boys was Paul Kling, a violin Wunderkind who had picked a good violin and a good bow from the lot offered by the Germans.  As there had been no music at all in my life as we had to hand in radios, gramophones and records and entry to any public performance was prohibited to Jews as well, it was marvellous to be just a few feet away from him, due to the room being very crammed with 3-storey bunk beds, listening to the most intricate pieces played with the greatest of ease.

I then spent a few weeks in a children’s hospital with suspected nephritis, inflammation of the kidneys, and, on being discharged, I was also moved to a different house with different boys but the love of classical music and some understanding of its technical aspects have stayed with me.  Paul survived Auschwitz and a slave labour camp, as well as a death march and became leader of orchestras in Tokyo, and Kentucky, ending his career as Professor of Music at the University of  British Columbia at Vancouver.

Our stay came to an end on 12th October 1944 when my mother and I were put on one of 11 transports which emptied the ghetto of 18,402 people, or of about half of its population between 28th September and 28 October 1944.  The Germans wanted to make full use of their Auschwitz gas chambers before they blew them up.  1,574 people were still alive on liberation, a death rate of  91.5%.

My father had been sent on 29 September 1944 on a transport of 1,500 people of whom 79 survived.  He was not among them.  Our transport was also made up of 1,500 people of whom 78 survived.  My mother was not among them either.  I am one of the 78 who survived from that transport.

We had travelled in a third class carriage with wooden slatted seats, not in a cattle truck like most other transports, it just depended  on what the Czech and German railways had available.  They got paid, as did the French and Dutch railways, for ferrying the condemned to their death and they knew perfectly well what they were doing.  We travelled throughout the night, so there was nothing to see anyway, and we arrived in the morning of the   13th October 1944.  We didn’t know where we were, we had never seen anything like it, it was confusing, alarming and frightening.  We were ordered out of the carriage and had to leave out luggage behind, they were our last possessions which even those few who survived were never to see again.  Robbing the Jews was as much on the German agenda as murdering them.

Orderlies, prisoners in striped prison uniform, which we had never encountered before, who had done this before many a time, put women and children into a queue six abreast, and men and boys into a second queue, parallel with the first.

I was a bit slow, or overwhelmed, but my mother spotted me, left her  place in the queue, came over to me, shook me by the hand, and returned to her place.  There was some sort of ramp at the end of which stood some SS men.  The women, girls and babies went up the ramp first, one by one, as directed by the prisoner-orderlies.  I saw my mother turn left at the end of the ramp.

The women were quickly disposed of, quite literally, then it was the men’s and boy’s turn and then my turn.  I went up the ramp, not taking any notice of the men in their black uniform and turned to the left, to follow my mother.  I was hauled back.  Your fate was decided by the moving indicator finger of the senior SS officer, moving it to the right or to the left, it could have been Mengele.  As I had taken no notice of the men, I had taken no notice of the finger of one of them but, obviously, a bystander had, that was probably his job, to make sure the decisions on life and death of the parade of the damned were carried out.  I was turned to the right and joined a small group of men.

That encounter on the ramp was one of the links of a chain of events which caused me to survive and be here to-night.  The selected few were marched away, taken to a large room where we had to undress, putting our clothes on one heap.  That was the last time for a very long time that I had worn my own clothes.  We had a short shower, all the hair on our bodies was shaved off using blunt razor blades.  The hair on one’s head was removed with clippers.  Lice lay their eggs on hair, lice carry typhus bacteria, typhus is deadly, is no respecter of person, even the SS could get it.  Hence all hair had to come off.

We were issued with new, or rather with very second, third or fourth-hand clothing, but not of the striped variety.  My black jacket had a large red cross in dark red painted on its back, shoes were wooden clogs, underpants were made from prayer shawls.  Prayer shawls are made from best wool, as it was October in cold Poland, they did us a favour making us wear them.  There were no vests or shirts, only thin brown blankets which we wrapped around us.  The cap was important, you had to doff it with a flourish every time you saw a German guard appear.

We were taken to a wooden hut, one of many.  They all looked the same and it was difficult to find the hut you had been allocated as all the inmates also looked the same.  Our fate had been arranged before we had even left the ghetto.  The manager of a firm, called VDM and still in existence, had the contract to produce propellers from aluminium castings for the German air force.  He needed cheap labour to maximise profits.  He was already using Czech and French forced labour but wanted something really cheap but intelligent and if they could speak German and there were a few professional engineers among them, a few doctors and maybe a mathematician, so much the better.  Like any other German factory manager he requested Jewish slave labour from the administrators of Auschwitz.  He was promised the survivors of the next transport from Theresienstadt, a ghetto which seems to have had the reputation of consisting of the intelligentsia, that was us.  In the end there weren’t enough survivors from our transport, but that is another story.

Not only were we told on the first night that we were very lucky because we were going to be sent to work somewhere with a roof over our heads and not in the open as were most of the others, but on the second night this manager came into our hut, a man in civilian clothing, a raincoat with the circular party member emblem in his lapel, and selected us by, once again, pointing his finger.  If anybody ever tells you that the Germans didn’t know what was going on you can tell them that not only did they know but that they actually entered Auschwitz and other camps and that agents from the Allianz insurance company inspected them because they insured them.  He didn’t stray far from the door to our hut because that open door provided light from the outside.  The bulbs fitted to the concrete supports of the electrified barbed wire provided more light that the very weak bulbs inside the hut.  I happened to stand near that door, he happened to see me, he pointed at me, from that moment onwards I was going to be one of his slave workers and on the 19th of October 1944 we were put on a train, this time into cattle trucks, standing room only, and we were off to Friedland.

It was work in a factory, as we had been told, and we had a roof over our heads even if conditions were not exactly rosy.  The 12-hour shifts were beyond our endurance for the little food we received and the work was quite hard.  The propellers were made from aluminium but they were large and solid.  Nevertheless  it was better than working in the open at an aircraft fuel-from coal plant, like Felix Weinberg, exposed to the elements and to constant bombing by the 8th US Army Air Corps, not being allowed into shelters and likely to be hit by shrapnel from bombs as well as from falling anti-aircraft shells.  It was another link in the chain.

A classmate of mine from Prague happened to stand at the other end of the hut.  He too had survived the selection at the ramp on arrival.  The manager of the Friedland factory did not see him standing in the dark away from the door, did not point at him, did not select him.  He was sent somewhere else and died on the 3rd of January 1945 in Dachau of starvation in the arms of his younger brother.  I traced the widow of that brother to Melbourne, Australia.  I happened to be at the right spot at the right time.  That was what one’s fate depended on.  Luck.  Not on wanting to survive, everybody did that.

Frank Bright’s Classmates

My class photo of class IIB of the Jewish school in Prague, taken shortly before the school was closed in June or July of 1942. It is not complete, by the time the photo was taken some of my classmates had already been deported. Those with a red square were murdered, those with a blue one survived till liberation


The Revival of Jewish Community in Suffolk

The records that I have state that the last synagogue in Ipswich was demolished round about 1877. Towards the end of the C19th, there are records of a few Jewish families living in Ipswich. They moved away, the synagogue fell into disrepair and it was then demolished.  The site of the old synagogue is near to Rope Walk and Suffolk New College. There is an old closed cemetery, near to Star Lane, on the premises of BOCM Paul’s Ltd, which was acquired in 1796 and closed in 1850. The Board of Deputies of British Jews are the current guardians of this.  There is also a small section of the Old Municipal Cemetery that is devoted to Jewish graves, near to the section for Muslim graves.

Ipswich PoWs_0010.jpg This cemetery is rather hidden away.  It can be accessed from Paul's car park.  There was a small Jewish community in Ipswich in the nineteenth century.  In the census of places of worship which was held in 1851 the returns show that ten people attended the synagogue in Rope Walk on a Saturday morning.  A street directory of 1851 also refers to a Rabbi living in Fore Street.  The tombstones in the cemetery are mostly in Hebrew, and some of the people buried here had lived in Bury or Colchester.  When the municipal cemetery opened, a Jewish section was created, and this cemetery was closed.  There is no synagogue in Ipswich now, the nearest ones being in Colchester or Norwich.

So, evidence of a small community in Ipswich and Suffolk in the 19th century does exist; and the 2001 census identified 654 Jews living in Suffolk, of whom 106 lived in Ipswich.

When I arrived in Ipswich, in 1992, to work as a Probation Officer, it took me ages to track down the nearest synagogue, which was in Colchester.  This synagogue was, and is, independent but runs its services broadly   “orthodox” or traditional - in line with guidelines set out by United Synagogue.  There are however, concessions, that acknowledge that the people who  attend services at Colchester are  integrated into the wider community, and there is a central seating area that is    mixed, enabling men and women to sit together (in contrast to a traditional Orthodox synagogue).  From Ipswich, the journey by car to the synagogue is about 30 minutes to go to a service.

My sense of being culturally isolated was quite profound whilst I worked for the Probation Service.   I was sure that I was the only Jew in Ipswich.  However, after the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) service in September 2004, at Colchester Synagogue, a small crowd of us stood talking, and realised that we were all from Ipswich, and that there were probably quite a few people in the same situation; attending services in Colchester but living in Ipswich.  We agreed that it was worth exploring the potential for services in Ipswich.

I approached Liberal Judaism, which has a more modern and inclusive approach, and about four of us met with Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, the then Outreach Officer for Liberal Judaism, in SIFRE offices Ipswich, in October 2004.   Although I grew up absorbed in the local Woodford Orthodox synagogue, I encountered Liberal Judaism when my mother went into residential care in Enfield and together we attended the Liberal Synagogue at Southgate.  I was greatly impressed by everybody’s friendliness and warmth.

 Rabbi Aaron Goldstein was always wonderfully enthusiastic about generating community, and he suggested that we started with a Tu B’shvat (the New Year for Trees) service in January. Aaron provided us with suggestions for an open air service, and we tried to contact as many people as we possibly could who may have been interested in developing a Jewish community in Ipswich and its environs. 

People were drawn together from amongst friends and acquaintances of local Jewish people.  My partner,   who was an art lecturer at the then Suffolk College, knew quite a few Jewish students so we approached them and they brought others. The grapevine method of contacting people started to activate.  I was amazed when a crowd of about 20 people gathered at Old Felixstowe for the Tu B’shvat service, to be held in the open air.  We weren’t that organised; some of us sheltered under the awning of the local pub seated on the benches, and the rest of the group took refuge in the nearby café.  Those of us on the benches conducted a short service, a sort of homage to fruits of the season, set against the grey January sky.  We established a small group to organise local services, mentored by Aaron Goldstein.  We started to plan events with a small planning group, from which four people have emerged as the core group, now helped by three others.

Our first Friday evening service was led by Aaron, on 15th April 2005, attended by 28 people.  To recollect that this may have been the first communal Sabbath service to be held in Ipswich for over one hundred years, it was an historic event.  Aaron brought his guitar, and accompanied himself through the service, generating a warm atmosphere.  A hallmark of our services has always been that the formula for the meal is that everybody brings a contribution towards the shared meal, and despite only very loose organisation the meal always turns out to be well balanced and delicious.

During that year we had a Seder service  (April 29th)  a talk  on ‘Jews in Ipswich’ (June), a garden party  (July), and  a few monthly Friday  evening services,  held either at SIFRE premises or in people’s houses.  Attendance was variable.  I recall that the Seder service was attended by about 18 people, and the garden party was very well attended.  Attendance at the Friday night services fluctuated around the 8 to 16 mark.  We built a Sukkah (an outdoor dwelling made with greenery draped over it, so that sky can be seen,  a tabernacle), in late September, and held a Succoth  (the festival of rejoicing,  or Tabernacles) service, led by Rabbi Rachel Benjamin.   This was very well attended by both adults and children.

From January 2006 we were offered the services of Rabbi Rachel Benjamin, who travelled to Ipswich, after taking the Shabbat service in Norwich, to take a Havdalah (the service to mark the end of Shabbat) service at SIFRE. Rachel split her time between Woodford Liberal Community,   Norwich and ourselves.  Rachel did this four times through 2006, until it ended as she had a different base as a Rabbi, and the arrangement became untenable.   We were all smitten by Rachel’s easy manner, and her warmth.   On 4th March 2006, Aaron took a Saturday Shabbat service, at Colchester Synagogue, which was an interesting experience for the Colchester congregation who were used to a different style of service.

In that same year, 2006, we organised another garden party and had a service between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  That year Rabbi Danny Rich came to take the Succoth service.   Like Aaron, and Rachel, Danny has a wonderfully easy manner, great warmth and a capacity to involve children in the services.

We have always aimed to provide a programme, throughout the year, that is a combination of services, talks and social gatherings.  We acknowledge that Jewish people who live in Suffolk, who often have non Jewish partners, have no wish for a traditional style of service.  Although our final loyalties have yet to be declared, it is clear that the Liberal/Reform prayer books suit our needs and the inclusivity of the Liberal movement is also meaningful to the lives we lead.   We acknowledge that people come to services with different agenda;   some people are pleased to have contact with other Jews and to be able to talk about shared cultural experiences (such as food, song, celebration, festivals),   some are pleased to be able to celebrate key Jewish festivals locally, some may be coming to revive a connection with Judaism that became lost and some families seek to give their children contact with Jewish religion.    More unusual is the desire to learn about the culture and religion that is Judaism out of a spiritual inclination and interest in becoming involved.  We have received a lot of support from the Liberal movement, and without this support we would have been less successful.  We have met quite a few student rabbis, who have always charmed us with their enthusiasm, sometimes leading quite small groups.

Other memorable services have been the winter Tu B’shvat services, in particular the service held in January 2008, when youth workers came,   and set a precedent with their child centred service.  The then student rabbi  Janet Darley came to take our Yom Kippur service (October 2007),  and  the Seder (the term means ‘order’ and generally applies to the service for Passover) service on 19th April 2008,  to which we invited Major John Reid from the  Salvation Army  and the then  Diversity Officer of Suffolk County Council.  Twenty seven local people attended this service.  The following year our Seder service attracted over 50 people, and this year about 43 people attended.

We held a workshop of cantorial song, with student rabbi Nathan Alfred, in May 2007,   and a talk by Dora Love on ‘Yiddish, more than a language’ in June 2007.   We also held an evening with Elkan Levy,  raconteur and historian entitled ‘Cromwell and the Rabbi’,  the story of how Jews were officially allowed back into England in 1655 by Cromwell after their expulsion by King Edward 1 in 1290.  This evening was run in conjunction with Colchester Synagogue, and the local branch of the Council of Christians and Jews.    In February 2010 we held a talk given by Leo Williams, UK representative of Abraham Fund, which is an organisation committed to promoting equality between Arab and Jews in Israel.

Aaron Goldstein was able to visit us on a regular basis as the Outreach Officer until he became the Rabbi at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue, taking over from his father Rabbi Andrew Goldstein (who has also visited us for a Friday evening service, talking about the rescue of Czech Torah scrolls from Nazi Europe).   At the time of writing nobody has, been appointed by Liberal Judaism to replace Aaron, as Outreach Officer, and in the interim Rabbi Danny Rich includes outreach work with all his other commitments.  In October 2009, Danny Rich held a Saturday Shabbat service for us.   I recall that he adopted a very child friendly approach in allowing children to come and look at the Torah scroll as it was unrolled for the reading.   We are looking forward to welcoming Danny to Ipswich again at the end of October 2010, when he comes to take another Saturday Shabbat service, with a talk focusing on the future of the community.  As part of this service we shall be celebrating the recent conversion of Rebecca Steiner, and I am planning on having a belated batmitzvah.

Our planning group includes the well defined role of treasurer and mailing list secretary, however we do need to define other roles, and, hopefully, elect people to these roles.  In addition to the core four people on the Planning Group who have been constant throughout early days of the group, we now have three other people who are willing to become involved in our organisation.    We are in the process of preparing a website, which will make it easier for people to access programme details, and other pieces of information.  We also plan on preparing a wall hanging to hang in any space that we are using to make it our own for the short period of time that we are there.  We changed our name from Ipswich Liberal Jewish Group to Suffolk Jewish Community, and have a logo. 

We have been fortunate to have extended the space available in the Old Municipal Cemetery in Ipswich for further Jewish graves.  Of course it is very sad that we have had two funerals of local Jewish people. The first was a cremation, attended by a rabbi and at the recent funeral of the late John Goldstein, the service was taken at his graveside by a female Rabbi.  Fortunately we have been able to have the style of funeral  of our choice for these services.

It is very difficult, maybe impossible, to celebrate being Jewish alone; it seems to revolve around communal activity, celebration of festivals some of which derive roots in the agricultural calendar, and others in key events in Jewish history.  Whilst we primarily live in a secular world,  in which intellectual challenge of received wisdom or stories is encouraged,  I personally derive comfort from trying to maintain some semblance of ritual and tradition that I know sustained generations of past Jewish families through very difficult times.  For me, the act of being part of the promotion of Jewish community locally is my tribute to the struggle of Jewish forebears.  High minded intentions aside, I also think that celebrating Jewishness is fun and interesting. With time you do slowly feel as though you know the people in the community and can join them in their personal celebrations and sadness.  Over the years a steady trickle of different people have attended our services,   social or cultural events. I counted 50 individuals and families on the mailing list that I currently have.

  We aspire to producing better publicity and to have regular local people to take the services.  Barry Spivack is undertaking the course run by Leo Baeck College in taking services and we hope that this will help to make us more self-reliant.

  We have a lot to thank Liberal Judaism for,   the constant hard work of the members of the Planning Group  and the specific contribution to community life given by Nick Feldman in taking services.   In the end the survival of Jewish community in Suffolk will depend on the interest of children, and our capacity to instil in them a love of the religion through involvement in community services and celebration.  It would be heartening to think that the Community is becoming established, and maybe there is scope for education about the tenets of Liberal Judaism.

Beverley Levy (4th October 2010)


Suffolk Jewish Community

We are a small group of Jewish people living in Suffolk.  We meet in Ipswich about once a month to celebrate the Shabbat.  We also celebrate some of the Jewish festivals.

We hold occasional social events and talks.

We have links with Liberal Judaism.

If you would like more information about us and our forthcoming activities please contact us: sjc@liberaljudaism.org, see our website: http://sjc.onesuffolk.net


Barry Spivack’s Story

Orthodox Jews don’t live in Suffolk. An orthodox Jew needs nine other Jews with whom he can pray, he needs to be able to walk to the house of prayer on the Sabbath and if he is not a vegetarian then he will want access to a kosher butcher. I moved to Suffolk at the end of 2006 and so one can gather that I am not an orthodox Jew. However I enjoy Jewish services and I enjoy mixing with other Jews.

Before moving to Suffolk I had been temporarily living in Brighton for ten months. Brighton has four synagogues, two orthodox, and the only town in England with both a reform and a liberal community. The key theoretical distinction between orthodox Judaism and non-orthodox Judaism is that the orthodox believe that both the torah and the oral law is the word of God whereas the non-orthodox think that the torah was inspired by God but written by man and the oral law was written by the Rabbi’s.  Within the orthodox we can distinguish between the ultra-orthodox, whose black coats and hats are a leftover from eighteenth century eastern Europe, modern orthodox who will keep all the commandments but otherwise cannot be identified by what they wear (although many will wear a Yamulka on their head) and those who belong to an orthodox synagogue but may vary in how many commandments they actually obey.

Whilst in Brighton I visited all the different synagogues and they each had their own distinct feel and ethos. On moving to Suffolk I used Google to locate the nearest synagogue which turned out to be Colchester, an independent orthodox synagogue, fifty minutes drive from where I live. There were also two synagogues in Norwich and Cambridge, one orthodox and one liberal in both cases. There was no synagogue in Suffolk. It seemed that Suffolk was a Judenfrei zone.

An orthodox Jew will pray three times a day. In most Jewish communities there will be services at least on Friday evenings, when the Sabbath commences, and on Saturday mornings and for the various Jewish holidays. The fifty minute drive to Colchester was too far for the shorter Friday evening service and they rarely held services on a Saturday morning. This was a little frustrating.

A couple of years after moving to Suffolk I was looking at the national website for Liberal Judaism and by chance I noticed an email address for the Suffolk Jewish Community (SJC). I immediately followed this up and was delighted to find that four ladies who all belonged to the synagogue in Colchester but lived in Suffolk had started the SJC. At the time they held services on the last Friday of the month either in someone’s home but more usually in hired premises. On the first two occasions there were four or five of us. It is rare that more than fifteen attend a service. Our membership has just reached a record high by topping the thirty member mark.

If any of us were devoted Jews we would not be living in Suffolk. But all of us feel a sense of belonging and familiarity which most but not all gained whilst growing up. It would be very difficult to generalise about our group as we all come to it in our own way with different needs and desires. I enjoy the prayers. Judaism is more about doing than believing but theology is obviously a central part of the religion. What one finds is that most Jews tend to focus on the bits of Judaism that appeal to them. It may be the emphasis on social justice or charity, or doing good deeds or it may be more inward and contemplative.

As a teenager I had no interest in Judaism. Having survived the ordeal of my barmitzvah I could forget all about it and just do enough to keep my parents satisfied. To me Judaism seemed only concerned with outer rituals and seemed superficial and repetitive. It seemed to lack any sort of genuine spirituality. I was interested in philosophy  and social justice and I wasn’t interested in having a set of beliefs. I wanted to know what was true. At university I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics and whilst there I also learnt Transcendental Meditation which involved no change in beliefs or lifestyle but simply gave the experience of inner silence. Whether or not it was a coincidence or not I found that I made more of a connection with Judaism after I learnt Transcendental Meditation. I found that the words of the prayers seemed more meaningful.

It was after the birth of my first son that I became more interested in Judaism and began joined the Bedford Liberal Synagogue, and when I moved to St Albans I belonged to the Masorti synagogue (Masorti is between reform and orthodox) and when I lived in Regensburg in Bavaria for two years the only synagogue was orthodox although a friend described it more accurately as non-observant orthodox as most of the congregation were relatively recent Russian immigrants who were Jewish in name rather than religious practice. One doesn’t have to have a religion to teach one’s children to be ethical and good citizens but I take the view that what has stood the test of time must have some value.  With both of my sons I teach them about Judaism but I emphasise the ethical rather than ritual aspects although the ritual aspects are there to some extent. For example lighting candles on a Friday night and celebrating traditional Jewish festivals.

There is an old joke that a Jew on a desert island would build two synagogues as there has to be one he doesn’t go to. I prefer towns where there is just one Jewish community – one size fits all. Then one can enjoy the diversity of how people relate to Judaism. Theologically I would describe myself as an agnostic who errs on the side of believing. I tend to take the view that most religions are describing the same thing but simply using a different language or vernacular and have developed different traditions and customs. I tend to look at what religions have in common and ignore the differences. On the other hand I would not consider going to a church or to a mosque to pray as that is not my tradition.

The prayers at the services remind me of both a deeper reality than one sees on the surface of life and one’s responsibilities towards one’s neighbours both near and far. I would prefer it if I had to travel less far for a service – it is generally a twenty five minute drive. I would prefer it if we had services more often and more people attended. But I made a choice to live in Suffolk and implicit in that choice is that Jewish life would be sparse. My elder sister is orthodox and she lives in NW London where she has a large choice of synagogues of all denominations.

I am currently on the committee of the SJC. It is possible as the university in Suffolk develops we may attract more Jewish students and members of faculty. I am proud of my Jewish heritage but over time the essence and inner meaning of religion can get lost which is why I also enjoy my practice of Transcendental Meditation and the two give me both a sense of spiritual development and fulfilment.


Being Jewish in Suffolk

As a child and young adult I moved around the country and lived in many areas with and without thriving Jewish communities. My move to Suffolk was work related and meant relocating from Sussex very near to an active Jewish community in Brighton, where at that time there were four synagogues, to Suffolk a place with no synagogue. I knew that if I accepted a job I would have to travel to find a synagogue and although I was aware of one in Colchester I was unable to locate it and so journeyed to Norwich as often as possible. Eventually I found the Colchester synagogue and was made very welcome there, so much so that for many years I made a round trip of approximately one hundred miles to join the Shabbat evening service on a Friday evening and went most weeks. There were also festivals and other events that took me there. We now have a small community that meets in Ipswich about once a month on a Friday and for some Festivals. I continue with my membership at Colchester.

So in some ways the move to Suffolk has helped to strengthen my belief in Judaism, as I have had to make more of an effort to maintain any relationship with a community. When the community is on one’s door step so to speak it is relatively easy to practise the faith. Kosher provisions are an issue as they are not readily available in Suffolk. The fact that I have to drive to a synagogue and that kosher food is not to be found in Suffolk rules me out as an Orthodox Jew. Judaism, as with many faiths, has a spectrum of observance from Ultra-Orthodox through Orthodox and Reform to Liberal. Over the years I have thought of myself as Jewish without any of the labels that are usually associated with being a member of a particular community. Therefore I am comfortable and happy in any Jewish community.

Once I retired from full-time employment I became more actively involved with interfaith work through my association with The Suffolk Inter-faith Resource (SIFRE), going into schools to contribute to religious education by giving talks on Judaism to children from reception class through to year 12, and participating in whole school assemblies. My involvement with SIFRE has also enabled me to talk about Judaism within further and higher education, and with diversity training for the police, fire service and local government services. One of the areas that I have particularly enjoyed has been speaking to people of other faiths about Judaism and learning from them about their faith. In many ways knowing more about other faiths and beliefs has confirmed my belief in Judaism. This has been particularly so when I have visited churches of different denominations and discussed with their members the similarities and differences between Judaism and Christianity.  My involvement in inter-faith activities has shown me just how many similarities there are among the many faiths that exist. There are differences but I think that the majority of people, regardless of their faith or beliefs, wish for a better life for all and for the ultimate gift of universal peace.

Somehow in 2004, I became a member of the Suffolk Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE). Each SACRE has representation from faiths other than Christianity and I represent the local Jewish Community on the council. SACREs provide support for teachers in their delivery of the RE curriculum and in the provision of collective worship. Since October 2010 I have chaired SACRE. I am one of only a handful of non-Christian chairmen of SACREs in England and feel very fortunate to live in a place so welcoming of people of different beliefs and cultures.

In addition to SACRE I am part of the multi-faith chaplaincy teams at Ipswich Hospital and Suffolk New College and University Campus Suffolk. In both of these roles I am there to offer support to people of all faiths and none. The Jewish community in Suffolk is quite small and therefore I rarely have to respond to the needs of my own faith community.  Occasionally I have also spoken to Women’s Institute groups and the Mother’s Union, thereby increasing my involvement in the wider community. All these activities have helped to strengthen my own beliefs.

Elizabeth Sugarman


Jewish Reflections

Jewish teachings revolve around questions of ethics, of man's treatment of his fellow man (or woman). There are some expressions that capture this sense of treating one's neighbours and community with compassion and fairness, such as 'do not do unto others what you would not have done to yourself' and then again, 'thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself' (which is from Leviticus 19:18). Jewish people are commanded to help those in need, both physical and financial and to help both Jews and strangers.

I was brought up amongst a very traditional Jewish family and like all families my parents were very busy simply making a living and getting through the week. They were not learned and teachings were transmitted via example, in the way that they were. I now have a few wonderful books handed down to me by my parents that are actually about the teachings and in one book it explains what the Talmud says about community. The Talmud is the writings that give guidance on how to live. In this book 'Everyman's Talmud' I read:

'man is not intended to live alone but as a member of society. He is a unit in the body of humanity.... His life is not his own to do with as he pleased. His conduct affects his neighbours as their conduct affects him'

There are further teachings that stress the importance of being independent 'If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being for myself, what am I"; but that this shouldn't be carried too far. In Jewish teachings it is believed that an isolated life is not worth living and that it is desirable to seek co-operation and mutual assistance 'If you will lift the load I will lift too, but if you will not lift it, I will not

We hope that Jewish people are a valued part of the social landscape. This year celebrates 350 years since the Jews returned to Britain, in 1656, after being expelled in 1290 by Edward 1. There have never been many Jewish people living in Ipswich, and the last synagogue was demolished in 1877 after it had fallen into disrepair. It is now possible for local Jewish people to meet and celebrate the festivals. We are doing this in the style of Liberal Judaism which attempts to bring ancient teachings in line with contemporary life, accepting that most of us lead secular lives completely assimilated, with the people we live amongst.

By celebrating festivals that are couched in our own ancient mythology we are able to confirm our identity. By association I would consider that a healthy society is one in which people from different ethnic backgrounds are able to securely celebrate their own mythologies and commonalities; an even healthier society is one in which we are not only tolerant of each other's cultures, but join in. One year we had a Holocaust Memorial Service on 27th January in the synagogue in Colchester that was attended by local people from different local churches.  On that same weekend the Chinese community were celebrating their New Year of the Lazy Dog on 28th January and we were invited to join in with the celebrations. It helps to make us all feel included in that thing called community.

Beverley Levy