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Editorial
Written 1999

Rabbi Susser in front of the Ark

Rabbi Susser in front of the Ark, Plymouth Synagogue

 introduction | Rabbi Susser's Philosophy | Future Plans

 Introduction

Rabbi Dr Bernard Susser was born in 1930 in North-West London, of Galician ancestry. His father was the beadle in the Dunstan Road Synagogue, whose kosher wine shop in the Golders Green Road was a local landmark. He was educated at Dame Alice Owen's school, Islington, and took his first degree and Rabbinical Diploma at Jews' College, London.

At Exeter University he took a degree in law whilst submitting a PhD thesis in the Department of Economic History on the Jewish communities of South-West England, 1181 - 1981. He published numerous articles on South-West Jewry; The Jewish Cemetery on Plymouth Hoe; an account of Chief Rabbi Adler's Census of Anglo-Jewry, 1845; and The History of the Johannesberg United Hebrew Congregation. His definitive book, The Jews of South-West England, has been much acclaimed. He was preparing to publish works on Jews in the decennial Census returns, Jewish Wills, and Tombstone Inscriptions at the time of his death.

He worked as a rabbi in England, South Africa and Israel till retiring to live in London with his wife, Sylvia. They have a son in London and a daughter and grandchildren in Jerusalem.


I collected the twelve boxes of papers and computer disks from the London Metropolitan Archives on Monday, 21st June, 1999 in a day-long round trip from Crediton in Devon, past Stonehenge on the day of the solstice, via Kensington High Street, Picadilly and Shaftesbury Avenue, and then back home along the M4. The papers are a mixture of original documents and many photocopies, which I hope to catalogue and, where appropriate, make available via this site. The many floppy disks came sorted into bundles, a large one labelled 'infected'. What this means can be seen in the sample below:

ÝÝÝÝTh foundatioÓ oÊ eighteentË centurł Anglo-JewisË ç ÝÝÝÝprovinciaÏ communitieÛ haÛ beeÓ welÏ documentedÆ ¡ ç ÝÝÝÝJewisË pedlar¨ aÙ · tim wheÓ pedlarÛ wer aÓ essentiaÏ ç ÝÝÝÝparÙ oÊ th countrysid retaiÏ networÎ an‰ wer ofteÓ ç ÝÝÝÝmeÓ (¶ women!© oÊ substantiaÏ economi„ fortune¨ wenÙ ouÙ ç ÝÝÝÝoÊ LondoÓ an‰ passe‰ througË · markeÙ townÆ H waÛ ç ÝÝÝÝjoine‰ bł otherÛ whÔ woul‰ meeÙ togetheÚ iÓ aÓ inÓ whicË ç ÝÝÝÝwaÛ knowÓ tÔ cateÚ foÚ JewisË pedlars¨ keepinÁ theiÚ ç ÝÝÝÝpotÛ an‰ panÛ iÓ · locke‰ cupboardÆ Theł woul‰ pał on ç ÝÝÝÝoÊ theiÚ numbeÚ · day'Û wageÛ sÔ thaÙ h woul‰ stał iÓ ç ÝÝÝÝth inÓ oÓ Friday¨ shechtì · fowÏ iÊ h ha‰ · shochet'sì ç ÝÝÝÝlicence¨ an‰ cooÎ foÚ alÏ oÊ theÌ oveÚ ShabbatÆ OÓ ç ÝÝÝÝSundał theł woul‰ alÏ seÙ ofÊ oÓ theiÚ travels¨ th cooÎ ç ÝÝÝÝwritinÁ witË chalÎ hiÛ nam an‰ th nam oÊ thaÙ week'Û ç ÝÝÝÝsidraË iÓ Hebre˜ script¨ sÔ thaÙ th JewÛ whÔ cam nexÙ ç ÝÝÝÝcoul‰ se thaÙ th utensilÛ ha‰ noÙ beeÓ use‰ bł th ç ÝÝÝÝinnkeeperÆ AfteÚ · while¨ on oÊ theÌ mighÙ opeÓ · shoš ç ÝÝÝÝiÓ thaÙ markeÙ towÓ (ofteÓ looke‰ afteÚ durinÁ th weeÎ ç ÝÝÝÝbł hiÛ wife© whil h travelle‰ aroun‰ th areaÆ IÊ h ç ÝÝÝÝthrived¨ h mighÙ financ oÚ provid stocÎ foÚ otheÚ noÙ ç ÝÝÝÝso-well-ofÊ pedlars¨ oÓ conditioÓ thaÙ theł returne‰ th ç ÝÝÝÝfollowinÁ Friday¨ pai‰ theiÚ debts¨ an‰ helpe‰ tÔ mak · ç ÝÝÝÝminyaÓ oÓ Shabbat.

In fact, I have had no problem with a virus (because I use a Mac!) and Tony Reese of JGSGB has pointed out to me that I probably just need a better translator for files created in MS DOS Wordstar. As it is, the previous passage when manually cleaned up returns to the original text fairly quickly and easily using search and replace repeatedly:

The foundation of eighteenth century Anglo-Jewish provincial communities has been well documented. A Jewish pedlar, at a time when pedlars were an essential part of the countryside retail network and were often men (and women) of substantial economic fortune, went out of London and passed through a market town. He was joined by others who would meet together in an inn which was known to cater for Jewish pedlars, keeping their pots and pans in a locked cupboard. They would pay one of their number a day's wages so that he would stay in the inn on Friday, shecht a fowl if he had a shochet's licence, and cook for all of them over Shabbat. On Sunday they would all set off on their travels, the cook writing with chalk his name and the name of that week's sidrah in Hebrew script, so that the Jews who came next could see that the utensils had not been used by the innkeeper. After a while, one of them might open a shop in that market town (often looked after during the week by his wife while he travelled around the area. If he thrived, he might finance or provide stock for other not so-well-off pedlars, on condition that they returned the following Friday, paid their debts, and helped to make a minyan on Shabbat.

Recently I have found a little piece of shareware that converts Wordstar to RTF quickly and easily - a godsend!

It is an exciting privilege to have access to this archive, and I am grateful to Dr Helen Fry for bringing it to my attention after Rabbi Susser's death, to Charlotte Shaw, Senior Archivist at the London Metropolitan Archives, and most of all to Hanna Yaffe, Rabbi Susser's daughter, who has trusted me to have the collection temporarily in my care.

 

Frank J. Gent

27th June 1999

 Frank Gent


Rabbi Susser's Philosophy

'I firmly believe that public records should be available for inspection by bona fide members of the public'

'Computerising our records serves two purposes: to make it easier to find names or identify groups, and to save wear and tear on the original records.'


Future Plans 

I hope soon to make available Rabbi Susser's booklet on recording Jewish tombstones. I should dearly like to complete some of his schemes, and would be grateful to anybody who can cast light on the whereabouts of any of his work, such as his card index of 2,500 westcountry Jews. I, like many others, saw this, but it now appears to be lost. Similarly, I have no knowledge at present of any completed work on westcountry Jewish wills.

I hope to transcribe myself further items from the Exeter Synagogue Archives and make these available. Already, volunteer help has made available some of the minutes of the congregation. I am grateful to Jackye Sullins, a descendant of Alexander Alexander, for her help in this.

Original archive material it is intended to place in the Devon Record Office permanently, and some items at the West Devon Record Office in Plymouth. It is all at present on temporary deposit at the Devon Record Office in Exeter where it can be consulted.
 

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