Monday, October 24

An Orthodox existence on the hill

By Andrew Gimson Last updated at 00:00am on 05.03.01 Appeared in the Eveining Standard:
Ita Symons arrived in England with 300 other Jewish children from Poland in 1946. She and her parents, who were able to follow her to London two years later, had survived the Holocaust by fleeing to Russia, but about 50 members of her family perished in it.
She went to live with relatives in Stamford Hill, which over the last century has developed into the greatest stronghold of Orthodox Jewry in Britain, the men immediately recognisable from their beards, black hats and long, black coats.
As Paul Lindsay has written in his book The Synagogues of London, "These Chasidic groups seem to create self-imposed ghettos and seek to maintain the kind of life which existed in the shtetl of Eastern Europe. They speak Yiddish as well as English, and religious duties and practice are at the centre of their lives." Shtetl is a Yiddish term for a small town or village.
Mrs Symons is a restlessly energetic woman who has seven children, "well over 20" grandchildren and is chief executive of the Agudas Israel Housing Association, which provides 400 dwellings for Orthodox Jews, mostly in Stamford Hill but also in Manchester. Unlike many Orthodox Jews, she is not in the slightest bit shy of talking to the Press.
When she received me in her office, she was helping a scribe to find a home for himself and his very large family: many members of the community have 10 or 12 children and she estimates that, including children, it now numbers 16,000 in Stamford Hill, with all its members living within walking distance of their small, informal synagogues, where they pray three times a day.
"The average number of children in this community is about eight," Mrs Symons said. "The youngsters just have lots of children irrespective of their financial constraints. We look on children as blessings. God will provide. What is special about this community is its commitment to the religious way of life, not letting go of a way of life that has existed for over 3,000 years. Though we have a few rich members of the community, who are all in property, most of the children come from very poor families, but they are educated in a very rich culture.
"We educate them that this is the way of life. It's not negotiable. It gives the children a sense of security. The Ten Commandments are the framework. From the Ten Commandments spring 613 do's and don'ts. It's the acceptance, not just the observance, of these 613 commandments that describes an Orthodox Jew. What it means in practical terms is the acceptance of kosher food and the observance of the Sabbath."
The children are educated at private schools, of which at least 25 are scattered across Stamford Hill. These are named after towns and rabbinical dynasties in Poland, Russia, Romania and Hungary. Boys and girls are educated separately. At the Belz school, 15 rabbis, or teachers, give instruction to 250 boys. I saw a lively class of 11-year-olds, wearing skull caps and sidelocks, learning the scriptures in Hebrew and Aramaic from their rabbi, with Yiddish as the medium of instruction. At the end of the day the boys do an hour of English and maths.
Like most of the Jewish schools in Stamford Hill, the actual building, which also houses the Belz community's synagogue, is dilapidated far beyond what would be acceptable in even the most rundown state school. The presence just inside the front door of a peddler selling the sort of small items that might be found in an ironmonger's increased the feeling of stepping back into the 19th century.
Menasche Scharf, a member of the Belz congregation, said: "We do not allow the children to have the influence of the television and the media." He added with a smile: "And we do not even allow them to read the Evening Standard.
"Two-hundred years ago, we started in Belz, in Poland, and, under four generations of rabbis, people came from all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The hats we wear were fashionable 100 years ago. The Jews had to keep up with the fashion. We stay with what we came with from Poland. That's why you see different hats. The flat hat is from Hungary, the tall hat is from Poland, you have the one that is plain material from Russian Poland and the west European Jews go with one that is bent down at the front. But it doesn't have any religious significance. I wear a skull cap underneath so that when I take off the hat my head is still covered as a mark of respect towards God."
It would be unimaginable to omit the Stamford Hill Jews from a survey of ethnic London, but one should note that many other Jews would be upset if this particular community were to be taken as typical of British Jewry in general, much of which is highly assimilated.

Wednesday, October 5


By C. S. Teitelbaum
Hundreds of local cheder boys joined an awe-inspiring gathering this Tuesday in the majestic Bobov Shul on Egerton Road.

Over twenty years ago gedolim in America initiated this special annual Yom Tefillah whereby yiddishe kinderlach assemble during the aseres yemei teshuva using the power of their innocence and purity as a means of praying on klal yisroel's behalf. Established seven years ago locally, the cheder boys came to the event en masse davening minchah and reciting chapters of tehillim and selichos. They were joined by many Rabbonim, fathers and rebbeim who were keen to join this rare opportunity of davening with the huge crowd of tinnokos shel beis rabon.

Rabbi Yeshaya Schlesinger, Rosh Kollel Chaim Ozer, opened the program with an emotionally charged address about tefillah, noting its significance especially during these days when even the individual tefillah is as valuable as with a tzibbur. He kept his young audience riveted with examples from the Gemara, how Reb Chiya and his sons managed to transform the weather dramatically with the intensity of their kavannah at the words mashiv horuach umorid hageshem and how the earth trembled before they reached the words mechayeh meisim for fear of the outcome. Rabbi Schlesinger further emphasized that the boys should daven for extra siyatta d'ishmaya in contending with today's great struggle against the infiltrating spiritual dangers.

Rabbi Ahron Fischel, menahel of Skver cheder, recited six kappitlech tehillim that have been singled out by the gedolim at the original founding decades ago. Emotions ran high as the boys' honeyed voices rang out, movingly chanting passuk by passuk, intermingled with the many adults who were lining the shul's circumference. Mincha was followed by a responsive recitation of Avinu Malkeinu led by Rabbi Betzalel Kamionka, before which Rabbi Osher Schapiro reminded the boys to beseech passionately at the words shelach refuah sheleima. Indeed, at the intensity of those words participants noted that they were assured the childrens' cries pierced right through the domed roof to the skies, where the shechina awaits them now more than ever.

Rabbi Eliezer Dovid Friedman was honoured with pesicha for selichos, which was then recited by Rabbi Avrohom Moshe Krausz, renowned baal Tefillah from America.

The event was organized by Rabbi Schapiro, Reb Menashe Scharf and Reb Aryeh Deutsch. The experience left the boys both humbled and emotionally uplifted, the inspiration of the moment making an everlasting impression. 

This article first appeared in the Jewish Tribune, 06 October 2011

Tuesday, October 4

Torah Way update Adar 5766

Torah Way North London Update, Adar 5766.


by Menasche Scharf


Listeners to the Torah Way North London programme on Kol Haloshon, as well as the regular visitors to the Biala Shtiebel in Castlewood Road in South Tottenham were treated to an extraordinary discourse on Emunoh, Bitochon and Divine Intervention (lit. Hashgocho Protis).


The speaker was octogenarian Rabbi Yitzchok Wiesenfeld, acting Rabbi and spiritual leader to the New Shul's Minyan at the Victoria Community Centre in Egerton Road.


Spiced with sayings of our sages from previous generations and punctuated with his own insights, he skilfully wove a chain through the Parshyios relating our Egyptian stay and subsequent sojourn in the wilderness.


Regular fans will notice the growing number of recorded Shiurim on the Kol HaLoshon system, which has now reached over thirty.   These include sessions on Sundays and Thursdays, mostly delivered by local Rabbonim on a one-off basis. 


Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Gee will deliver the coming Sunday's drosho (05/03/2006), followed by Rabbi Yechiel Fogel on the Sunday after (12/03/2006).


A new system is G-D willing now being introduced whereby there will be a regular speaker on Thursdays, every three to four weeks.   Each contributor will focus on a particular area in the vast expanses of Torah: the weekly Parsha, History, Hashkofo etc. - all with the aim to enrich the lives of our ba'aley battim and enhance their day in a Torah-dige fashion.


We now have the privilege of introducing some of the regular Maggidey Shiur for alternating Thursdays: Rabbi Mordechai Fine, Rabbi Gavriel Menashe Lamm, Rabbi Yechiel Fogel and Rabbi Yerachmiel Tzvi Halpert.


The beauty of Torah Way is that it becomes contagious; people tell their friends, who relate their new-found experience to family, who in turn make sure to bring along yet another newcomer-friend.   Indeed - regulars are being reminded to be generous, to share the joy and spread the word about the wonderful, uplifting words of wisdom they acquire in these short sessions with long ranging effect.


A special guest speaker is planned for Purim day - start it the Torah Way.  Watch out for more details on the Shul noticeboards and in the news. 


As has been previously reported, Yiddish-speaking listeners have not been left out - tune in on Kol HaLoshon and dial extension 3111 to hear the legendary Rabbi Hershel Eckstein every Thursday evening between 20:20 to 23:05 on the Mekadhsey Shevi'i channel.


Torah Way , the daily morning Shiur started two years ago in North Manchester and now operates in North and North West London.


We are now in the process of publishing a Torah Way Diary, an A4 flyer listing forthcoming Shiurim until Erev Rosh HaShana.   For further details, call Menasche Scharf on 07974 160 252.



                1 Adar 5766 (27/03/2006)