Nathan Laski

Nathan Laski was born in 1863. He joined a cotton exporting company at a young age, frequently visiting India as part of his duties, and went on to develop it considerably. Although the son of an immigrant, and although born in Poland himself, like many members of the established elite, he was keen to distance himself from immigrant culture. Involving himself in communal affairs from his twenties, Laski was the president of the Great Synagogue in 1896, and went on to become president of the Board of Guardians. He was also the first provincial Jew to serve as an officer on the national Board of Deputies of British Jews, and in 1906 he was made a Justice of the Peace.

As the "uncrowned king" of the Jewish community, Laski held court at Smedley House, Smedley Lane. People queued for his help and advice, and it has been estimated that he saw over 70,000 such visitors during his lifetime. He was an imposing and intimidating figure, a stubborn man who was used to getting his own way. Nevertheless, he was often wrong and was forced to back-track several times in his career. For example, he initially opposed the building of the Manchester Victoria Jewish Hospital as something that would prevent immigrant Jews integrating into British society. Later, however, he accepted the position of chairman of the Jewish Hospital and remained there for 20 years until he was struck by a car on Cheetham Hill in 1941. Ironically, he died a day later at the same Jewish Hospital. Another example, of course, was his antagonistic attitude towards political Zionism, which softened considerably after the Balfour Declaration (1917).

Politically, Laski was Liberal and in 1904 he pledged his support for Churchill's bid to become MP for North West Manchester. Churchill had made a show of opposing the Aliens’ Act, which had limited immigration into Britain at a time of Russian and East European persecutions, and which was passed by Balfour’s government in 1905. As a result, Churchill won the election, and Laski became a life-long friend. It was at one of Laski’s dinners that, despite his dislike of Chaim Weizmann, Churchill and Weizmann first met.


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IMAGE AND DOCUMENT CREDITS: Nathan Laski (M Dobkin, More Tales of Manchester Jewry) Full reference: Sources.