JCR-UK

the former

Huddersfield Jewish Community

Huddersfield, Kirklees, West Yorkshire

 

 

 


Pesach - memories of life in the sticks

Diane Langleben née Friend born 1947

My personal story is a little out of the ordinary when compared with many Jews of my generation. Like my Pesach - memories of life in the sticks Diane Langleben née Friend born 1947 My personal story is a little out of the ordinary when compared with many Jews of my generation. Like my father, I was born and brought up in Huddersfield, which at that time boasted of being the largest town in England. However, the population of around 150,000 comprised very few Jews. During the first 10 years of my life, I remember going to a small synagogue where services were held on only the more important Jewish festivals. In about 1959 the synagogue disbanded and my family joined Bradford Hebrew Congregation, the nearest centre of Jewish life. Although my father had been instrumental in re-establishing the Huddersfield Synagogue, he was not particularly religious and very little in the way of Jewish practice took place in my home. For example, I cannot remember my mother ever lighting candles on Shabbat, despite coming from a religious home in Leeds. Nevertheless, neither of my parents felt themselves to be anything other than Jews and they would never have abandoned their background. Consequently, I was not allowed to attend school assemblies and each Wednesday after school, my brother and I were collected, along with every other Jewish child in the town ― we all fitted in one car ― and taken to a cheder class held in the home of one family, for which a teacher, named Mr Monsby, was brought over from Leeds. There was always one boy being prepared for bar mitzvah so only a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew letters and reading rubbed off on me. The epicentre of Jewish life was my grandmother’s house. My paternal grandmother had been born in London but came north to become the second wife of my grandfather, a journeyman tailor, who came from Manchester. For reasons that are unknown to my cousins and me, they set up home in Huddersfield. Grandma ran a dressmaking business and gown shop at 298 Bradford Road Fartown, now a tattoo parlour, but then specialising in bespoke costumes to fit those who, like her, were of somewhat ample proportions. She plaited her hair in the Austrian style, as presumably had her female antecedents, to her dying day. She was a well-known character in the district and made no secret of the fact that she was Jewish. One story grandma told me was that when she arrived in the town, the neighbours came round, curious to know if she had horns; it was popularly believed at the time (in the first decade of the 20th century) that Jews were so endowed. She was quite a spiritual lady and I remember on those occasions when I stayed with her, she always recited the 23rd psalm before retiring for the night, and lit candles and recited the brachot on Shabbat. Grandma was the force that kept the family together. There were three sons and one daughter, all married with families, and an unmarried stepdaughter from my grandfather’s first marriage, who lived with her father and stepmother. The highlight of the year was Pesach when at least 20 people gathered for the festival. She did not have a table large enough to accommodate us all, so the adults sat around one table with all the younger cousins at another. We paid very little attention to the adults gabbling through a service in a language that was alien to our ears. Instead, we spent time swapping silly stories and catching up with the latest gossip from Leeds, where three of my cousins lived. Nevertheless, something must have made an impression. Sixty-plus years on, I can still remember those festivals as if it was yesterday. Every word of the Hagadah was recited by my father and uncles, and it seemed an eternity before the meal arrived. Grandma was an incredible cook but the seder menu never changed from year to year: after the obligatory eye-watering bitter herbs, sweet charoseth and hard-boiled egg, there was then a choice of the earthy beetroot flavours of borscht or chicken soup with matzo balls, followed by roast chicken with all the trimmings, and for dessert, the traditional lokshen kugel. (All this was cooked on an old-fashioned cast-iron kitchen range; there was no refrigerator and perishables were stored in a wooden cupboard with an iron-mesh door, in the cellar.) Afterwards, the seder continued and the traditional songs sung with gusto to tunes about which everyone argued. We were allowed to stay up late — perhaps that is another reason it was all so exciting. When my grandmother died in the 1960s, it marked the end of an era. Seder nights were never the same again. Instead, they were relatively small affairs held by my parents — maybe a dozen at table at most. In my late teens the assembled guests often included stray Jewish students studying textiles at the local technical college, including some from such far-flung places as Denmark, Switzerland, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Turkey. Once I left home and came to live in London, my family held no more seder nights in Huddersfield. Now I am one of the matriarchs of the family and I have been holding a seder every year throughout my married life. And my brother and I are still arguing about which tune fits which song . . . Diane Langleben © 2021 Return to the top of the page Huddersfied Jewish Community & Synagogue homepage Page created: 7 February 2021 Latest revision or update: 7 February 2021 father, I was born and brought up in Huddersfield, which at that time boasted of being the largest town in England. However, the population of around 150,000 comprised very few Jews. During the first 10 years of my life, I remember going to a small synagogue where services were held on only the more important Jewish festivals. In about 1959 the synagogue disbanded and my family joined Bradford Hebrew Congregation, the nearest centre of Jewish life.

Although my father had been instrumental in re-establishing the Huddersfield Synagogue, he was not particularly religious and very little in the way of Jewish practice took place in my home. For example, I cannot remember my mother ever lighting candles on Shabbat, despite coming from a religious home in Leeds. Nevertheless, neither of my parents felt themselves to be anything other than Jews and they would never have abandoned their background. Consequently, I was not allowed to attend school assemblies and each Wednesday after school, my brother and I were collected, along with every other Jewish child in the town ― we all fitted in one car ― and taken to a cheder class held in the home of one family, for which a teacher, named Mr Monsby, was brought over from Leeds. There was always one boy being prepared for bar mitzvah so only a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew letters and reading rubbed off on me. The epicentre of Jewish life was my grandmother’s house.

My paternal grandmother had been born in London but came north to become the second wife of my grandfather, a journeyman tailor, who came from Manchester. For reasons that are unknown to my cousins and me, they set up home in Huddersfield. Grandma ran a dressmaking business and gown shop at 298 Bradford Road Fartown, now a tattoo parlour, but then specialising in bespoke costumes to fit those who, like her, were of somewhat ample proportions. She plaited her hair in the Austrian style, as presumably had her female antecedents, to her dying day. She was a well-known character in the district and made no secret of the fact that she was Jewish. One story grandma told me was that when she arrived in the town, the neighbours came round, curious to know if she had horns; it was popularly believed at the time (in the first decade of the 20th century) that Jews were so endowed. She was quite a spiritual lady and I remember on those occasions when I stayed with her, she always recited the 23rd psalm before retiring for the night, and lit candles and recited the brachot on Shabbat.

Grandma was the force that kept the family together. There were three sons and one daughter, all married with families, and an unmarried stepdaughter from my grandfather’s first marriage, who lived with her father and stepmother. The highlight of the year was Pesach when at least 20 people gathered for the festival. She did not have a table large enough to accommodate us all, so the adults sat around one table with all the younger cousins at another. We paid very little attention to the adults gabbling through a service in a language that was alien to our ears. Instead, we spent time swapping silly stories and catching up with the latest gossip from Leeds, where three of my cousins lived. Nevertheless, something must have made an impression. Sixty-plus years on, I can still remember those festivals as if it was yesterday. Every word of the Hagadah was recited by my father and uncles, and it seemed an eternity before the meal arrived. Grandma was an incredible cook but the seder menu never changed from year to year: after the obligatory eye-watering bitter herbs, sweet charoseth and hard-boiled egg, there was then a choice of the earthy beetroot flavours of borscht or chicken soup with matzo balls, followed by roast chicken with all the trimmings, and for dessert, the traditional lokshen kugel. (All this was cooked on an old-fashioned cast-iron kitchen range; there was no refrigerator and perishables were stored in a wooden cupboard with an iron-mesh door, in the cellar.) Afterwards, the seder continued and the traditional songs sung with gusto to tunes about which everyone argued. We were allowed to stay up late — perhaps that is another reason it was all so exciting.

When my grandmother died in the 1960s, it marked the end of an era. Seder nights were never the same again. Instead, they were relatively small affairs held by my parents — maybe a dozen at table at most. In my late teens the assembled guests often included stray Jewish students studying textiles at the local technical college, including some from such far-flung places as Denmark, Switzerland, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Turkey. Once I left home and came to live in London, my family held no more seder nights in Huddersfield.

Now I am one of the matriarchs of the family and I have been holding a seder every year throughout my married life. And my brother and I are still arguing about which tune fits which song . . .

Diane Langleben © 2021

Return to the top of the page

Huddersfied Jewish Community & Synagogue homepage


Page created: 7 February 2021
Latest revision or update: 7 February 2021


Explanation of Terms   |   About JCR-UK  |   JCR-UK home page

Contact JCR-UK Webmaster:
jcr-ukwebmaster@jgsgb.org.uk
(Note: This is to contact JCR-UK, not the above Community or Congregation)

JGSGB  JewishGen


Terms and Conditions, Licenses and Restrictions for the use of this website:

This website is owned by JewishGen and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain. All material found herein is owned by or licensed to us. You may view, download, and print material from this site only for your own personal use. You may not post material from this site on another website without our consent. You may not transmit or distribute material from this website to others. You may not use this website or information found at this site for any commercial purpose.


Copyright © 2002 - 2022 JCR-UK. All Rights Reserved