Leon Locker’s Recollections (18 July 1948)

Memorandum concerning earlier days of the "Hevrah-Tziyon" (Manchester Zionist Association), affectionately known as the MZA

My first association with that pioneer Zionist body dates back to the early 1900’s - to be exact 1907/8 - when I used to attend its public meetings, as well as being a regular visitor to its then popular and busy library. Perhaps it would be true to say that the MZA premises, at that time serving not only as a Zionist centre, but also as an unofficial club where men, principally, used to meet for private discussions of questions of interest to Jews and Jewish leading personalities. The place in those discussions of learning was in the first row, thanks to the thriving Hebrew speaking society, known as the "Dovrei-Ivrith".

I was only a youth at the time, and therefore could look up with admiration to the familiar frequenters of the MZA building, generally known as the Zion hall.

But my first "official" association with Zion hall and its multifarious activities began with the unexpected election of myself as Secretary (Hon.) of the "Dovrei-Ivrith", in 1908 or 1909, the president being the tireless late Dr Isaiah Wassilevsky. The late Mr Albert Sable, a native of Jerusalem, who happened to be working for my father, succeeded in interesting me in that Hebrew speaking society, but did not divulge the ‘designs’ its officers had on me, as Hon. Sec. However, having accepted the position, I soon became "a very busy boy", indeed.

I don’t know exactly who then filled the position of Treasurer, but the Committee included such men as the late Mr Jerome Jacobs, Mr M Sortman, Mr Joseph Massel, Rev MM Cohen, Mr M Sagarsky, Mr Joseph Freedman, Mr S Shaffer, Mr Erin, Mr Lieberman (of Oldham), Mr Schneiderman, and a few others, including Mr Abraham Gadian and I W Slotki, happily still with us.

Meetings used to take place frequently, apart from ordinary committee meetings, of course. The public meetings were fairly well attended, and no opportunity was lost to arrange such meetings for more or less prominent Hebraists of the day, in addition to "local and normal talent". The brothers Leon (now Sir) and Maurice Simon were amongst the periodic speakers, and addresses, all in Hebrew, were followed by lively, if rather halting discussions.

I well remember how, at one time, the features of such discussions included the note-taking by the audience of any faulty expressions - and they were many - from the point of view, chiefly, of grammatical rules. Dictation was rather poor, and the remarks by participants seldom fluent. Exceptions to these shortcomings were to be found in discussions by one or two Sephardim, who included the late Mr Sable, already mentioned, Mr Bouhbouth, and the brothers Maimon as well as Dr IW Slotki.

Dr Wassilevsky, Mr Jerome Jacobs, Mr Erin, Dr Slotki, Mr Sortman, the brothers Maimon often addressed the Dovrei-Ivrith meetings. Thus was the spoken Hebrew work maintained, and the Zionist spirit increased manifold.

Now to come to the MZA proper. I think it was in 1913, when the Honorary Secretaryship of that body was thrust on me - again, without the slightest knowledge on my part that I was to relieve the then Hon. Sec., Mr Phineas Cohen, who had done great work in that capacity for many years past. I don’t know or remember who was his corresponding Chairman, but the President was, of course, the veteran Zionist, Dr Charles Dreyfus.

I accepted the post, frankly, without much enthusiasm, not because of my faint interest in the activities of MZA.  On the contrary, I was always ready to serve the Cause, but I did not feel I could do justice to the job, when I had already my hands full in other directions. However, the annual meeting - for such was the occasion - prevailed on me to get into that harness, too. I think that the late Mr AD Blain was then elected to the Chairmanship, while the office of Treasurer was filled by the enthusiastic Mr D Franks. The Committee included also the following Zionist workers, namely Mr I Wassilevsky, Mr Jerome Jacobs, Mr J Freedman, Mr NI Adler, Mr Chazan, Rev M M Cohen, Mr A Bloch, Mr D Bladen, Mr N Sortman - all now in a better world - and possibly a few others, amongst whom must be mentioned the late Mr Stollov. Of those who served on the MZA Committee and who happily are still with us the veteran Zionists, Mr Abraham Gadian, Mr Sam Massel, Mr Abe Blain, Dr IW Slotki, Mr Leiberman, and possibly one or two others whose names I cannot now remember. It may well be that these gentlemen did not serve at the same time, but it is safe to say that the majority were at some time or other during those years fellow members of the Committee.

The main form of activities was propaganda for Zionism, canvassing for members, selling Shekalim, public meetings, etc.

Amongst well-known personages addressing the public meetings were, naturally, the English Zionists Federation chairman, the late Mr Joseph Cowen, its Secretary, the late Mr Maurice Myers, and the now President of Israel, Dr Chaim Weizmann. The latter had a great meeting when he spoke on the then rampant controversy about the Zionist leadership - against Herr Wolfsohn, the friend and expected successor to Dr Herzl. (I still remember one point Dr Weizmann made - "Is Asquith a holtzhendler?", obviously to counteract David Wolfsohn’s following on his merits as a "businessman".) I am not sure who preceded whom in the series of two principal meetings, but Jewish public interest was great. Both Herr Wolfsohn and Dr Weizmann had rousing reception, and I rather think that Dr Weizmann spoke a day before Herr Wolfsohn. (That was not necessarily during my Hon. Secretaryship of the MZA, but the date can easily be established.)

The English Zionist Federation was, at about that time, "very active", and one of its Annual Conferences was held in Manchester. At the Farewell reception, attended also by that impressive, bearded figure, the late Mr Rubinstein, the EZF Treasurer, it was Mr Sam Massel’s lot to propose a toast to the "Federation". He aptly assembled, for a "federanish" (ferdreyenish) it was, indeed. I forget details, unfortunately.

The MZA membership at that period in its history numbered less than one hundred (unless my memory does not serve me well), but all the officers did yeoman work in trying to increase it.

I have, as a stray record of Shekalim sold in 1913, happily preserved on my files all these long years, showing an account rendered by me, as Hon. Sec., to the London office. I retain the impression that it was a "good" record for that time, too. These details may not be without interest now, after thirty-five years, Manchester presumably being the best branch outside London. They show - Shekalim received for sale Shekalim actually sold and outstanding.

As already stated, the MZA Committee were at about that time actively engaged in trying to increase the membership. One of the first steps taken in that direction was, in the words of the Chairman, Mr AD Blain, "to attack the Synagogues", and the beginning was made with the "English Synagogue". After the inevitable correspondence with its Committee, an appointment was kept at the Synagogue Chambers, the MZA delegation consisting of the Chairman, myself and one or two Committee members. In spite of our attempt to interest the Synagogue authorities in the Zionist movement, and especially in the purchase of Shekalim, the result was negative. On the Synagogue side there were, I think, the late Mr Nathan Laski, JP., Mr Herbert Nathan, possibly also the Secretary, the late Mr Harris. The former two gentlemen have in later years become ardent workers for the Cause of Zionism, but at the time under review, they would have none of it, at least not as representatives of their Synagogue. It is not discreditable to them that their Zionism dated from the Balfour Declaration days onwards.

I cannot say with certainty whether other synagogues were "attacked" by the MZA, but many of their respective members gradually joined our ranks, as time went on.

One of our greatest successes in that respect was the general increase of the membership by the enrolment of a new type altogether - the rich, on the one hand, and, on the other, some prominent Sephardim. To name them, mention must primarily be made to such personages as Mr Israel M Sieff and Mr (now sir) Simon Marks; the late Mr Samuel J Cohen, Mr - Cohen [sic] (brother), and the late Mr Leon. Now, the Sephardim had kept aloof of Zionism altogether, but the latter three gentlemen undoubtedly joined the Zionist ranks under the influence of the "Sieff-Marks combination".

We were then in 1915, when we had already reached a membership of some 400-500, a signal success for the MZA Not only was the ordinary income of the Association increased in that proportion, but Shekalim were selling by the hundred, as well as large meetings were possible. The enthusiasm was great, and big strides were being made in many directions. Mention must be made, for the sake of history, that the so called ‘Manchester school’ were at the same time busy with the exposition of the Zionist Cause to the late Mr C P Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, the late Mr Herbert Sidebottom [sic], of the ‘Guardian’ staff, and possible other non-Jewish enthusiasts for the Cause of a Jewish Palestine. The main workers on our side were, principally, although quite independently, Mr Israel Staff, Mr Simon Marks, and Mr Harry Sacher. Incidentally, Mr Sieff was always anxious to state that his Zionist interest did not begin with his MZA membership. Be that as it may, our branch was the body that canvasses him and gained many influential members through him.

It then became obvious that the "Zion Hall" was too small to hold its numerous callers, and chiefly too small to accommodate the frequent meetings. We therefore decided to look for premises "in the City", to answer two main purposed - larger accommodation and a more central position. This latter feature was calculated primarily for the benefit of a great number of new members residing in the South of Manchester, mainly Sephardim.

The budget of the MZA was secure enough for us to undertake the burden of high rent as well as other heavy incidental expenses. Nonetheless, there was no unanimity about the wisdom of the new step taken. Many complained about the comparative inaccessibility of the new premises, now situated in the lofty "Orme Buildings", Parsonage, Deansgate. Chief amongst the grumblers was the late Mr N I Adler, staunch Zionist worker for many years, who often derided the new place by calling it "Oreme Buildings" ("poor buildings").

The Committee thought it advisable to have a change in the Executive, and accordingly. Mr Blain resigned in favour of Mr Samuel J Cohen, who thus became Chairman; Treasurer Mr Franks (I think) gave way to Mr Simon Marks; Mr Sieff accepted the Vice-Chairmanship; but no new secretary was forthcoming. I therefore agreed to continue with my work as Hon. Sec. We were still in 1915, and the work had assumed such proportions that I could no longer do justice either to myself or to the job, and I resigned in the hope that someone would offer his services as my successor. I should say, perhaps, that Mr Sieff had already acted as Treasurer, before Mr Marks took office. As we were all a good team, and any disturbance in the personnel might injure the interest of the MZA, Mr Israel Sunlight offered to take over the Hon. Secretaryship, while I was prevailed upon to remain on the Committee and act as Financial Secretary, which really meant to look after the membership subscriptions, and nothing more.

Finally I resigned even that office, but with the feeling that I had done my job fairly and completely, over many years, paving the way for others to continue the Zionist in more ‘popular’ and more prosperous conditions. It is a source of great satisfaction to me that, after finding the MZA in a very modest circumstances, I left it prosperous, more distinguished and more popularly active than it had ever been before.

I had played my part successfully and untiringly, with a very good team, not only in the purely Zionist political sense, but also in the cultural sense. The Zionist Library, boasting of many hundreds of titles, mainly Hebrew, was an important adjunct to the MZA, and as Secretary of the Association I combined that office with Hon. Librarianship. Borrowers were not lacking and much reading was being done also on the premises, the "Zion hall", which were kept on simultaneously with the City premises, the two sets being complementary. They each served a definite purpose - "Zion Hall", Cheetham, satisfying the "old faithfuls" who preferred to stay in the heart of the Jewish northern district, and the rooms at "Orme Buildings" for public and committee meetings. Some there were who characterised the latter as the "snobs’ address" - and in a measure quite rightly. One could not escape the feeling that there was a certain gap between the former membership and the new one, and that, since financially the MZA had no "worries" and more, there ought to be a paid secretary, to say the least, who should carry on with fast growing amount of work. I, for one, began to feel that I was not justified in making further sacrifices in time and trading opportunities, when clerks could easily be engaged - hence one of my reasons for resigning. At any rate, according to my records, I continued with my hon. work for the MZA well into 1916, when, after preparing the Balance Sheet for the then ending financial year, finally gave up the office of Hon, Financial Secretary, but retained the office of Librarian, which work was in a different category altogether. In 1917, however, I resigned that position, too, notwithstanding the usual "nice" letters of appreciation, etc., etc.

In the interests of historical records, I think I ought to mention that I was succeeded by Messrs, Israel Sunlight and D Herman, who became joint hon. Secretaries, but the Library was after my final resignation closed to the public, and nobody apparently was found to undertake the task of looking after the "books".

Now, altogether I had in due course resigned also from the MZA Committee, and subsequently left the Association altogether, I kept in touch with all forms of its activities, especially in my official capacity on behalf of the Poale-Zion, which party I soon joined, by about the middle of 1917.

It may interest the present MZA to know that in November, 1918, an attempt was made to form a City branch, probably after the short-lived enthusiasm of the "Orme Buildings" period. I have in front of me a letter dated 16 October 1917, over the signature of Mr Israel M Sieff, indicating that he was moving that day at the MZA meeting "that the whole of the Manchester organisation be reorganised" and that the an appeal would be made "to the general body of members for workers". I don’t know the result of that, but things were not going too well with the MZA

Whether any such City branch - or to give it its full title, The Manchester City Zionist Society - was really formed I don’t recollect, but if it was, it must have been very short-lived. At all events, nothing much is known of activities, despite the impressive list of names appearing on the letter calling the meeting, "when the aims and objects of the proposed society will be fully explained". The names included the following:- Edward H Langdon, Chairman (pro ten.), I Sunlight, Hon. Sec. (pro tem.), Ph Quas Cohen, S J Cohen, Levy Davis, S Finburgh, Jerome Jacobs, Nathan Laski, Neville Laski and H Weinberg - the majority of whom were probably "Declaration" Zionists.

I may be allowed one final work - It is not unusual for newcomers in any movement to forget the groundwork of their predecessors, and I am afraid, present-day workers in the Zionist ranks are no exception.

 

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