by Harold Pollins
Dated: 1 January 2012
In my retirement I looked at two particular aspects of that history: Jewish servicemen in the First World War; and Jewish communities in Britain. I have since published a number of articles on provincial communities and it was inevitable that I should be particularly interested in the modern history of Oxford Jewry.
I had moved from London to Oxford in 1964 with my wife and two young children (a third being born in Oxford) when I was appointed a tutor at Ruskin College, Oxford. I joined the congregation, my children went to Hebrew classes, my son was the first boy to be barmitzvah in the newly-built synagogue in 1974, and we participated in communal activities.
The congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1991, and a book was written on the community’s history by the late Professor David Lewis, then the Professor of Ancient History in the University. My elder daughter and one of his had their Batmitzvah on the same day.
It was not too difficult researching the history of Jews in Oxford. There were numerous resources, in the Bodleian Library (the University Library), at the Centre for Oxfordshire Studies, part of Oxfordshire Libraries, and the County Record Office. In recent years, finding it difficult to get around, the Internet comes to my rescue; on it I can use the Jewish Chronicle, the Census, and the Indexes of Births, Marriages and Deaths.
I can claim responsibility for one particular collection at the Bodleian. One of my neighbours, when I lived in a college house as Resident Tutor, was a librarian at the University Library. I mentioned to him one day in the 1980s that I had kept all sort of paper which had been sent to me, as circulars, by the Oxford Jewish Congregation. What should I do with them? He was quite excited and said the library would take them. So I handed him what I had, and I received appreciative letters from someone connected with the John Johnson collection.
This is in the Library, started by a librarian of that name, consisting of all sorts of ephemeral material - old invoices, visiting cards, single flyers. That was where the Oxford Jewish material was located. I continued to hand my neighbour whatever came to me (these days increased by items from Oxford Chabad), and although he has retired he comes to me from time to time to pick up the large envelopes I have filled up. I asked him once what use it all was, some of it was quite trivial, I thought. ‘Oh no,’ he said, ‘we take the long view. In a couple of hundred years’ time some scholar will ask: “what was the Oxford Jewish community doing in the 1990s?” This is where he will find the answer.’
I have published a number of ‘chatty’, short pieces in the community magazine, Oxford Menorah, and they are in JCR-UK.
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