Isidore Wolfson’s Recollections (1900)

My earliest recollections of the Manchester Zionist Association go back to the beginning of the present century when whilst sitting on top of the open trams travelling noisily along Cheetham Hill Road one was able to look into the window of their ground floor premises situated then at No 97 which was used then as a library. And there we could see men of all ages standing at the newspaper stand and enjoying the reading of some newspaper or book in either Hebrew, Yiddish or English embracing every aspect of Jewish life. The rooms were comfortable and well patronized and were open every day of the week except on the Shabbath of course. It served as a sought of club to local Jewry: many excited arguments and discussions took place there. We had many distinguished visitors amongst whom may be mentioned our President of Israel, Dr Weitzmann [sic], and the late Professor Samuel Alexander.

Mr Halevey, headmaster of the famous [Brighton] Hebrew School, was permitted to hold his classes at our premises, that is before he was economically able to occupy rooms in the Derby Street schools.

And looking at it from the distance of years it is today impossible to estimate the direct and indirect influence our association had, not only on local Zionism but on the movement as a whole, not excluding the Hebrew language. On the other hand it is also impossible to tell the actual amount of ignorance prevailing today through the loss of some such cultural centre, as no such amenities exist today, though to be fair the ZCC had tried to re-establish a library recently in their present premises Mamlock House but ultimately it had to close in the end.

It was in the early part of 1919 when walking along one Sunday morning in Cheetham when I met two well known friends of the late Mr Blain and Mr Gadian who demanded that I must accompany them to our premises as they have something special to interest me. So I reluctantly concurred. There, in one of our rooms I saw Mr Rivlin who has only just then come from Palestine instructing a class of girls into the intricacies of the Hebrew language [naturally]under the auspices of the MZA I listened with suspicious curiosity. What? Fancy! Girls learning Hebrew! But all my suspicions were soon allayed when I was told to ask the girls any question I like pertaining to their lesson. Whilst they answered quite satisfactorily, the climax came when Mr Rivlin told the class to sing something in Hebrew, which they also did. But to me who had never heard before girls learning Hebrew they appeared like little angels singing. Suddenly another thought struck me. How much have we Jews lost in all those centuries that we spent in the Galuth by keeping our women folk ignorant. The miracle of the survival of the Jewish nation has loomed even higher in my eyes then when I realised that half of the Jewish population have been denied the very life-blood on which depends the welfare and survival of our people. Who can tell how many a [Gluckal of Hamalin?], a Nina Salomons, or an Emma Lazarus we lost by such neglect and we Jews call ourself the People of the Book. That Zionism all over England has given a [?] to the study of Hebrew, not even our greatest opponents will deny. It is therefore pleasing to put on record that our own MZA has been at least locally one of it main pioneers.

If my memory serves me right it was in the same year that the MZA arranged for a reception to be held in honour of Dr Weitzmann [sic] after the excitement caused by the publication of the Balfour declaration had somewhat subsided and of which he was mainly instrumental in obtaining. A great crowd assembled which included almost every local personality and in addition to the local Rabbinate these were also the Professors Samuel Alexander, Harold Laski and Namier. We all chatted together, and every one left in holiday mood, when suddenly I found myself in the vicinity of the above named notables who were standing together, when some nit wit comes up to me and inquires who the three men were. But when I told him their names he replied in a voice which was quite audible for any one standing near to over hear, "Namier, Namier, never heard of him!" And although the Professor concerned did not evince the slightest interest in this [?] remark, nevertheless it is possible that he may have heard it. If so, and if this should happen to catch his eye, I hope he will forgive me for being the unconscious agent of an unintended disrespectful remark.

A Year of Activity

And so year follows year when one autumn night in the late 1920’s the President Mr B Adler decided not to seek office again. Consequently two names were put forward as nominees for that much sought position, that of the late Mr Israel Sunlight and myself. I had no difficulty whatever to defeat my opponent at the general election. Nevertheless philosophical justice demanded that some executive office be found for him. So I myself proposed him as V[ice]P[resident] which was carried by a majority.

The late Mr Sortman was treasurer and [the] secretary [was] Mr Kay, who at that time was called Kafkevitch, but as this work seemed to occupy him almost all his time, we therefore granted him some token salary I think it was 10/- a week. The Committee apart from the executive included the retiring president Mr B Adler, Dr I W Slotki, Dr Kropman, Mr Abraham, a benevolent local merchant, Mr S Massel, and that brilliant young man Mr Yoffey, now Professor in medicine, who at the next general election managed to defeat me by the handsome majority of one. It is of course impossible at this time to remember all that took in place in those years, though some items are outstanding. There is for instance the Bazaar that was held in aid of the JNF [Jewish National Fund] at which the MZA had a stall. Mrs Wolfson was made chairman of the ladies section and Dr Kropman and myself were authorised to made a success of our stall. We visited many business houses and almost every editor of the local press who all received us and donated to the Bazaar quiet handsomely, but when we came to the Evening Chronicle we found the editor a hard nut to crack, at last he also caved in and when we left his office we had the following promises extracted from him. A number of Periodicals also magazines a hundred good books and a free advertisement in the Evenings Chronicle, all of which were honourably carried out. Needless to say that the MZA stall was the most successful on that occasion. One can still visualise the large room in the Cheetham Town Hall packed with every sort of commodity packed with visitors most of the time and the workers munching [?] their sandwiches in between quite moments [sic]. The excitement was great and the work hard, in fact as far as Mrs Wolfson is concerned it was too hard as she had to take a complete rest when the Bazaar was over.

Another conspicuous occasion no less from the personal point of view than that of the MZA was when the late Professor Samuel Alexander O.M. presided at a lecture given by my oldest son Walter. It was also arranged that a golden book certificate be presented to the Professor on account of his outstanding qualities having just then received from the British government the signal honour of the Order of Merit, an honour which is never bestowed to more than three persons living at the same time, and also for his unstinted support of Zionist funds, for which purpose he adopted the ancient Jewish manner of supporting the needy by allotting a tithe. This was continued right up to the time of his demise. Mr Neville Laski came specially for this conspicuous occasion but for some reason or other that presentation never took place. More is the pity.

The MZA in those days used to hold services on the High Festivals. This was done with the purpose of implementing its income [sic]. Generous offerings were made beside some small change for the seating accommodation, and quite a nice little revenue was collected. Readers will therefore forgive the very human failing when I say that I felt both honoured and delighted when the executive decided to offer me the honour of chatan Torah [Hebrew "Bridegroom of the Torah"] and our committee man Mr Abrahams to be [?]. The two of us have seen to it that there shall be no lack of suitable mundane amenities as befits such an occasion, so that in the evening, every worshipper who attending service were invited as well as the executive and committee the festive mood [?] all and everybody had a real good time.

Zionist Humour

I was once presiding at a general meeting which was called for the purpose of discussing some aspect of the Keren Kyemet [Jewish National Fund] but as it takes quite a mouthful to pronounce the title in full it was constantly referred to the KK when all of a sudden, up jumps some innocent, and vehemently protests against us wasting our time in support of anti-Semitism. When being asked for an explanation for this outburst the astonishing revelation was made that he mistook these letters KK to refer to the American secret anti-Semites society the Klu Klux Clan which was then in a flourishing state in the USA. On other occasion, this time it was at a committee meeting when the point of discussion was whether we should concentrate on the collection of general funds, or should we devote our energies on the Shekel to the exclusion of everything else. Opinion was equally divided. So to settle the question which was becoming rather boring I told the meeting that really there is Biblical evidence that the Shekel is preferable, in as much that the request was made to Abraham in... Genesis Ch 14.21 meaning "give me the soul, Nephes, and keep the rest". The word Nephes however amount numerically to 430, the same as Shekel, hence the biblical indication, but believe it or not this argument carried.

Change of Fortune

The remarkable and complete transformation that took place in the fortunes of the Manchester Zionist Association can best be appreciated when we realise that at that time we were the soul occupiers of 97 Cheetham Hill Road. We had many tenants occupying our spare rooms, amongst whom were the ZCC, the Maccabeans, and one or two more local bodies. At that time we were the main and only organisation in and around Manchester. Propagating the Idea of Zionism to a more or less indifferent community and this dominating influence could quite easily have been maintained and even extended to include every other Zionist activity were it not for the antagonism and jealousy shown by certain well known members of our Jewish community of which our own association was not lacking. And so time after time the question was forced at almost every committee meeting whether we should or should not become the tenants of our own former tenants, the Maccabeans, who have purchased their own premises higher up the road. Particularly against such a move was Dr Slotki he foresaw exactly what will be the outcome of such a retrogressive step and justly protested against it and when the fatal step was taken at last and we became a sort of [?] he resigned from the committee as the only way open to him to show his displeasure. One can not help but think regretfully not only of the glory that was once the rightful portion of the MZA, with its dominant position of being the main body for Zionism in Manchester, but also that all the glory and honour bestowed on the ZCC could have been ours, should we only had wanted it. Fortunately there are still a few nobly spirited souls left with enough vision with them to see that even today the MZA can still play and honourable and useful part in the life of our local Jewish community. May it have many more years of active life.


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