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the former

Letchworth Hebrew Congregation

Letchworth, North Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire

 

 

   
 

Page created: 26 March 2015
Latest amendment of revision: 27 March 2015

A Brief History of the
Letchworth Hebrew Congregation

by Eli Fachler

Eli Fachler, born in Berlin in 1923, arrived in the UK on the Kindertransport shortly before the outbreak of World War II. In 1944, he married Chava, born in Frankfurt, who had also arrived in the UK as a teenage refugee and was living in Letchworth. The couple set up home in Letchworth, where they lived from 1944 until 1971.

Eli has kindly provided JCR-UK with the following brief history of the Letchworth Hebrew Congregation and some of the interesting characters that made up the Jewish community in Letchworth.

Wartime photographs of Eli and Chava Fachler

 

Before World War II a few Jews had moved to Letchworth: Mr. & Mrs. KAHN - He was the Manager of the Anglia Match Company. Family KIRSCH - He owned a glove factory in Hitchin. With the outbreak of War, the LUNZERs moved to Letchworth, as did the family of David and Flora SASSOON, with full entourage.

When London was hit by bombs, late 1939 and early 1940, people evacuated to the countryside. Letchworth was one of the places chosen. One of the leaders of the Misrachi movement, Aba BORNSTEIN, had developed a workers estate in Letchworth, the first "Garden City". Mainly orthodox families from the East End, Stamford Hill and partly from Golders Green filled the houses on Aba Bornstein's Arborn Estate. Others found accommodation all over Letchworth, and the Letchworth Hebrew Congregation was established. The secretary was Rabbi HEINEMANN, succeeded after the war by Oscar PRESSBURGER.

Soon there were at least three minyanim. United Synagogue style in Howards Hall, opposite the railway station, which later moved to the Scouts Hall. A Stiebel-like Minyan occupied two attached houses on the Arborn Estate. Leaders of orthodox Jewry living there were: Dayan ABRAMSKY (head of the London Beth Din), The Slovener Rav (Rabbi BINJAMINSOHN), Rabbi Dr. EPSTEIN (head of Jews College), Rabbi Eliahu LOPIAN (Rosh Yeshiva of Etz Chayim) and others. The officially appointed Rabbi was Rabbi HOROWITZ (ex Frankfurt and Hunsdorf in Hungary) who delivered his sermons in the Scouts Hall in Yiddish. He was also the head of World Agudas Yisroel at the time and communicated with the Pope about protesting openly at Germanyís treatment of the Jews. He left Letchworth at the end of the war and was succeeded by Rabbi FEUCHWANGER, who was interned in Australia at the beginning of the war, together with so many other refugees from Germany. On his return, he married the sister of Rabbi Sassoon. The community also sported a mohel, Rabbi BAUMGARTEN.

After Dunkirk arrived Sigi STERN with his family. He started as agent for a Kosher poulterer in Stamford Hill, and shortly afterwards established his own butcher, poulterer, and grocer business in Letchworth. The hechsher was given by the Kedassia in London under Rabbi Dr. Schonfeld. The shochet was Reb Nachman DACHS (ex Wiesbaden). The manager of the butchery department was Moishe Chaim GRUNBAUM. Apart from the local clientele, meat and poultry were delivered weekly to a large number of customers in Stamford Hill and Golders Green / Hendon. That clientele consisted mainly of families who wanted a Kedassia hechsher. Letchworth shechita was the only Kedassia authorized until de-rationing in 1954, when Frohwein in London also opened its own shechita in Tring and joined Kedassia from Machzikei Hadass.

In the beginning of the 1950's the Yeshiva in Staines closed down. It was run by the Ledjer Rov, Rabbi WEINGATEN. The student body relocated to Letchworth under the tutelage of Rabbi Itshe AUSSENBERG, assisted by VON FREUDIGER and BENEDIKT. It changed its name to Letchworth Yeshiva, with Rabbi FEUCHTWANGER as Rosh Yeshiva. The main, if not sole, financial base came from Rabbi SASSOON. The student body was from Britain and Israel.

With many families leaving Letchworth for London from the yeshiva district, especially the families of the brothers of Abba BORNSTEIN, the Yeshiva closed down in the late 1950's. Some new families arrived and settled mainly near the district where the SASSOON family lived. The by-now very shrunken community of about a dozen families were now concentrated in the part of Letchworth of large detached houses with large gardens etc. Services were held on Shabbat and Chagim at the SASSOON residence in the Sefardi as well as Ashkenazi tradition. The running of the community was now in the hands of Eli FACHLER.

By that time Eli FACHLERís wife, Chava, had met a Cambridge student, wearing a kippa, on the train from London to Cambridge and persuaded him to come to Letchworth for a week-end. This resulted in the student, Michael WIESELBERG, creating a youth group for the children and teenagers, called The Letchworth Jewish Youth Club. Chava FACHLER asked Michael to bring other Jewish students from Cambridge to come and stay in Letchworth over Shabbat. The result was a regular visit of four generations (one generation being three years of studies) of Jewish Cambridge students spending Shabbatot and Chagim in Letchworth, which was also chosen as the place to have students invigilated during Shavuot, when they would not take exams like the rest of the university. That period was from 1958 to 1971. Most of those students later became well known in the fields of space travel, medicine, banking etc., and communal rabbis. Among the latter was the former Chief Rabbi Lord SACKS.

In 1970 the SASSON and FEUCHWANGER families moved to Jerusalem, and in 1971 the SCHISCHAs, the FACHLERs, the KIRSCHs and the POLLOCKs also left Letchworth. The community thus closed in 1971.

 

March 2015


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