Three months ago my life suddenly took a stressful direction causing, amongst other things, the first halt in my literary outpourings for 12 years.
In March we eventually returned to our home in Jerusalem after a two and a half year absence. We found ourselves faced with a long list of things that needed fixing which took ten weeks to resolve, following which we caught covid and two weeks later decided to leave the Israeli heat and returned to London where, ironically, we experienced an unprecedented scorching temperature of 41 degrees – imagine this with no air conditioning! Living in London our main concern was mostly about trying to keep warm rather than worrying about high temperatures.
We survived, however Charles then suffered a stroke and for the last ten weeks has been hospitalised. It has been a very stressful time that continues, but in life, however bad things seem, there are always good things to be found, In this case the love and help I have received from so many people.
Thanks to their support I am managing to cope and trying to return to some semblance of normality – in this case to start writing again.
In the past I chose not to write about myself or our family, but after requests from my grandchildren wishing to know more about their heritage I decided to make a start in this direction and see how it goes.
My maternal grandparents Joseph and Betsy Berdichevsky arrived in the UK from Berdichev in the Ukraine to settle in Leeds in the early 1900’s. On my father’s side the Bernstein and Berkovsky families came from Poland a generation or two earlier to Sheffield, making me the fifth generation to wave the British flag. I have a newspaper cutting from the Sheffield Weekly News dated June 9th 1906 writing about the top hatted guests witnessing my grandparents wedding as ‘a picturesque Jewish rite’.
Both my parents were Jewish, but theirs was considered a mixed marriage – mother being from Leeds and father from Manchester. In those days there was a healthy disregard by Mancunians towards Jews from the other side of the Pennines and we weren’t too keen on Liverpudlians either…
We lived in Cheetham Hill. When I was 4, I began school at the nearby Notre Dame Catholic convent, then considered the best girls school in the area. At the beginning of each day the nuns marched us into the chapel and en route the girls would dip their fingers into a sponge in a stone niche on the wall and make the sign of the cross. I remember that I, not wanting to appear different, would dip my fingers in the sponge, but then look at my hand and say “I shouldn’t do this because I am Jewish” and wipe it off on my skirt.
I have happy memories of my four years there, in particular when I was selected to be an angel in the Christmas play. I was placed on top of a high metal grey filing cabinet and had feathered wings that reached up to the skies. I still maintain that I have never felt quite so ethereal and that this was the closest I have ever been or am likely to be, to heaven.
Another invaluable fact I learned there was that if I ever lost anything I could appeal to St Anthony to help me find it. He was infallible and still is, despite Charles’s efforts to persuade me to put my faith in Rabbi Hananiya who, he said, provides a similar service. Some months ago I lost my hearing aids for six days and was on the point of getting new ones. As a last resort I tried the rabbi, but he didn’t respond, perhaps he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, but whatever, I returned to my old faithful, St Anthony, and miraculously in five minutes I found them. Stick to what you know works, is my motto.
When I was 6 yrs old the convent advised that on reaching 8yrs I would have to leave the school as they would begin intensive religious training. This coincided with our move to Prestwich, North Manchester, where there was a growing Jewish community but I continued at the convent for a further year.
To reach there from Prestwich I walked 20 minutes to catch a bus at Heaton Park, travelled half an hour to Cheetham Hill and then walked a further ten minutes to the convent. I was always unaccompanied.
It is interesting to reflect that in those days, rather than today when parents take their children absolutely everywhere in cars, no-one was concerned about letting young children go out alone. I am sure this contributed to making us very independent.
Perhaps we were naive about the world. I recall my mother saying that she never knew anything about homosexuality until she met my father. This could be construed the wrong way. What she meant was that it was he who first told her about it. Not so surprising as it was 1937 when they married. It took 30 more years, to 1967, for homosexuality it to be legalised in Britain and until the 1980’s in Scotland and Ireland. Another memory is when my father received the gift of a gold tiepin with his initials V.D. ( for Vic Daniels) decorating it. I never understood why he immediately changed it to D.V.
Whilst living in Cheetham Hill I remember going into our air raid shelter during WW11 bombing raids. Later, when the war ended, our street party was held when effigies of Mussolini and Hitler hung from lampposts and were set alight. My parents took us to London to celebrate D Day and I can still recall my indignance as a six year old having to sleep in a baby’s cot at the Cumberland Hotel.
Life was very different in those days. First there was food rationing. Every Saturday morning I went with my sister Joyce, to Mrs Kittle’s sweet shop. We had a weekly allocation of four ounces between us and would spend at least half an hour trying to decide what to choose.
OUR FIRST TELEPHONE
I remember the day we got our first telephone. local calls were fine but If we wanted to call abroad, in our case to Uncle David in New York, who sent us regular food parcels during the war, we had to book a time and wait several hours until we were connected.
Phones were never allowed to intrude into living rooms. Instead they were located in the entrance hall next to the front door. When I see the obsession people have today with their mobiles, permanently glued to their hands, I yearn for those far off days.
Prestwich was a different world. Kings Road primary school was a mere ten minutes walk from home through the ‘farm path’ adjoining a pig farm close to our home. It was a regular occurrence to see the little piglets escaping and running all over the road.
One unforgettable occurrence at school was when, aged 9 or 10, I was summoned to the headmistress’s office and caned three times on each hand. My misdemeanour? I had inadvertently entered the boys playground. I was too ashamed to tell my mother about this until, when she was 91 I mentioned it. She was furious saying “if I had known about this I would have come and caned the teacher!” I was delighted with her response, despite its tardiness.
In 1953 my parents invited some of my teachers to our home to watch the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip on our television set. We were one of the very few families in Manchester to have one, as my Dad, who could turn his hand to just about anything, built one from scratch In the little workroom where he spent most of his spare time.
PIC OF CATHODE RAY TUBE
In those days t.v.’s were built using a cathode ray tube, a small screen with a long glass protrusion at the back. A week before the event I went into Dad’s workroom room and clumsily knocked into the tube smashing into pieces. I was horrified at what I had done, but fortunately, he managed to get another one and the planned visit of our guests to watch this historic event took place. From then on, however, I was banned from going into his sanctuary.
But I wasn’t always useless. My parents had market stalls where they sold textiles and clothes, in Sheffield, Preston and Graymare Lane, Manchester.
I would sometimes go with Dad to help on a Saturday. I loved the colour and lively banter of the markets. However Mum would get upset with Dad as he was impatient and could be rude to the customers, hating it when they rummaged through his neatly laid out stock. I remember one occasion when a woman was doing just this he could stand it no longer.
“Can I help you? he asked her tersely. “No, it’s not for me,’ she said “I’m just looking for my sister” “Well you won’t find her in there!” he retorted’.
At 11 yrs I moved up in the world and went to Stand Grammar School for girls for the next five years.
Two friends from Kings Road, Maureen and Merle, moved to the school with me and there we met Beryl. The four of us were inseparable. Our friendship continued over the years. For our 60th birthday year we gathered from all corners of the world to meet up in the Cotswolds for a memorable five days. For our 70th birthday year we met up again, this time in the Lake District. Our 80th get together was scuppered by Covid, but saying that, Beryl ( in California) and I ( in London or Jerusalem) have managed to zoom each other for an hour every Sunday. It is unmissable. There is nothing quite like ‘old friends’. Just see below some of the illustrious writers who have commented on this for many many generations…..
THE BOOK OF PROVERBS (circa 700 B.C) ‘A sweet friendship refreshes the soul’
ARISTOTLE ( 384 B.C.) ‘What is a friend? a single soul dwelling in two bodies.’
CICERO ( 106 B.C.) – ‘Life is nothing without friendship’
SENECA (4 B.C.) – ‘One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood’.
MARCEL PROUST (1871) ‘Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
A more recent quote and one that appeals to me is from Bernard Melzer – an American radio personality.(b 1910) ‘A true friend is someone who thinks you are a good egg even though he knows you are slightly cracked!’
Well all I can say now, as a slightly cracked egg is that I hope you enjoyed this tale – to read about what happened next, watch this space…
Be happy! Ruth