Musings of a Jewish Genealogist: A Cautionary Tale of a Jewish Rambler

Recently, my young cousin, Ethan, rambled up to the top of the highest peak in the British Isles, Ben Nevis, which is in the Scottish Highlands.  Quite an accomplishment for a 16-year-old. 

It reminded me of a cautionary tale from 1929 which was told to me by my mother about the premier Jewish rambler, Phil Altman, who was born in 1907 and was twenty-two and lived at 68 Berkley Street, Strangeways, Manchester.  

He was a well-known rambler in those days and made a record of 4 hours 45 minutes on the Marsden to Edale walk of twenty-seven miles.  Another rambler, Vince Skelton, challenged his time with 4 hours, 5 minutes, and Phil could not resist trying to get under 4 hours for the walk.

After practicing for four days, off Phil went, despite inclement weather conditions on Sunday, September 22, 1929.  When he did not show up, a massive search was begun until his body was found on Tuesday, September 24, 1929.  

Evidently, even as adroit and athletic as he was, he had died of exposure as a result of slipping several times on the wet rocks of the trail until he finally fell and had broken his neck in the vicinity of Bleaklow and Woodhead Moors.  The sad part is that he had not gotten very far along the trail at that point.  

It was at a time when young Jews, both male and female, were choosing to go rambling on weekends to remove themselves from the factories and other hardships of the wage slaves, as they sometimes called themselves.  They formed clubs and joined in races to prove their prowess.  It was a refreshing activity and mostly harmless.  

My mother knew much of the details of Phil Altman’s demise as she had known Phil well, and she was a friend of his sister Edie Altman, wife of Samuel Weinstein.  Lacking Census data, I had found many specific tidbits in the local newspapers, as it was a big story.  Also, it seemed too that Phil’s best friend, Goodwin Mandelberg, was interviewed for the details of the challenge that killed him.    

As Phil’s untimely death caused a tremendous jolt amongst his compatriots, they began to realize their mortality and deeply mourned their friend.  They did not realize that something more frightening was coming to disrupt all of their lives — World War II.

Before that happened, I was reminded by one of the members of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Great Britain that the songsters “The Spinners” (and also “The Dubliners”) used to sing a song written by Ewen MacColl called “The Manchester Rambler” (see link below).

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YENYMwuCG2Y​​ 

This was in honor of the 1932 Trespass whereby Benny Rothman, another experienced Jewish rambler from Cheetham Hill in Manchester, who was knowledgeable about rights-of-way, led a peaceful group of young ramblers to Kinder Scout against the hated Enclosure Act.

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Born in Manchester, England, genealogist Ann Rabinowitz is a resident of South Florida and has been involved in genealogical pursuits since the age of ten. A prolific writer, her articles have been published on the JewishGen Blog, in numerous Jewish genealogy journals, on Facebook, and in various newspapers. 

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