Page created: 28 December 2005
Reformatted: 29 December 2011
Born into Preston Hebrew Congregation in 1946 when it was thriving, I have fond memories of attending Cheder in a classroom with a magnificent marble fire surround, and of being enraptured by the beautiful stained glass windows in the Shul. It was a happy community which seemed to be filled with Garden Parties, Fancy Dress, Purim Plays, trying to be back of the queue for a sip of wine (the one at the back could finish it off!), and the feeling of honour when my father, Maurice Barker, was called to the bimmah. There was also an unspoken code of silence and tension around the past and an intuitive sense that "uncle" such-and-such, who had a foreign accent, had come from somewhere, or something, else. Always an inquisitive child, the shock of finding hidden away a book with photographs of the Holocaust became my own secret nightmare.
There had been a large group of youngsters during the war, and my sister had gone to Habonim. But for my brother and me, and those of our age, there just wasn't the social life, despite early childhood friendships. New opportunities were emerging, and University beckonned. Despite efforts to host events for other teenagers in the 1960s, nearly all of my peers left the area to forge new lives in Israel, London, Manchester and beyond. The synagogue closed in the mid 1980's.
Before the Synagogue was purchased, I remember my father telling me, services were held in a smaller house in the Avenham area. Fund raising for the larger building was quite difficult. His sister, Annie, had a brother in law (Les Marsden) who had a Dance Band, and my father and he bit the bullet and hired the Public Hall (former Corn Exchange) and went all out to sell tickets for a big dance and fund-raiser event. He said he was terrified that they wouldn't sell enough tickets and could have incurred a lot of debt - but as it was, the event was well supported and went a long way towards the sum required.
The congregation even afforded a Rabbi, amongst whose duties was the ritual slaughter of chickens. These would be wheeled down for slaughter with their legs tied, usually in a pram. My elder sister said that this task often fell to her, and she was in dread of anyone looking into the pram to see the "bonny baby"! On one occasion, the family decided to feast upon Goose, and she was duly sent forth with pram and Goose to find the Rabbi. All alone. He was quite furious that no adult had come along to help hold the unwieldy beast whilst he said his baruches and employed the knife. She waited whilst he took the goose out of sight; but she heard more than baruches .... in fact such language from a Rabbi she had never heard before - prompted by the fact that the Goose bit him!
It was ever thus. Half a century earlier, Fishers the Furriers used to send their boys Cecil and Harry on a similar mission. All went well until one eventful day when they crossed Fishergate by way of the "island" in the middle of the main street. This was the stepped up, wrought iron edifice with flights of stairs each end leading to subterranean facilities for "Ladies" at one end and "Gentlemen" at the other. Somewhat more hasty that was wise, Cecil bumped the pram up onto the island with such gusto that two chickens, legs tied, were shocked out of their stupor and flapped out of the pram and tumbled and flew down the flight of steps into the Ladies' lavatory, from which came the sound of much screaming. Cecil drew rank, and insisted that he was much too big to go down to retrieve them, but that young Harry was the only one who could present himself without causing a scandal. The ignominy remained with him seventy years later!
So, having been away myself for a quarter of a century, I am back in Preston. Two or three of the original congregants remain, as far as I can see, and I have met a few Jewish people from America and Israel now working here. Who knows... maybe the community can revive. Perhaps this could be my New Year project.
Prepared for JCR-UK by Linda Martin
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