Friday, 24 January 2014

Horrible Histories

Yesodey Hatorah is holding a fundraising evening and good luck to them for that. They don’t have to pay for the use of the ‘voluntary aided’ wedding hall that is extorted from the rest of us so that’s already £2,500 gained. As they say, every little helps.

As part of the build-up to this annual event, Hamodia has been running a 4-part series, "Yesodey Hatorah - Past and Present",  which is supposed to be a "short historical review of its history". Several photos accompanied the articles with Reb Shmelke Pinter appearing in many of them but not a single photo of that minor inconvenience, Rabbi Pardes, who by chance just happened to found the school.

Hamodia correctionTo be fair to them, they apologised in advance for "unintentional inaccuracies, of which we would be pleased to be informed" and by week 3 some corrections duly appeared. The corrections included a number of local names who had given 'substantial support' to the school and also noted that Reb Dovid Berkowitz was a 'menahel' prior to Pinter senior. I suppose we ought to deduce that other than those few corrections the remainder was accurate to a tee.


I hate to rain on their parade but I can't resist pointing out what appears to be a little invention that inexplicably made its way through the army of scholars and highly qualified history teachers who must have fact checked every syllable to ensure that nothing slipped through the barbarians at the gate safeguarding their family’s honour, prestige and not a small fortune. I will leave it for readers to decide whether what follows forms part of the 'unintentional' or whether it has mens rea scribbled all over it. To assist you along with this little brain teaser here is just a small clue: the current 'Principal' of the voluntary aided senior girls' school happens to function as an 'unpaid advisor' to the Hamodia. Could be a red herring or may possibly hold the clue to the puzzle. We may never know.

IMG_00001318Anyhow, back to the 'history'. According to the second instalment of the series (above) the genesis of Yesodey Hatorah school was at a meeting called by Rabbi Pardes in 1942 in war-torn London. Of that meeting the Hamodia has this to say: "Rav Pardes called a meeting attended by Rav Rabinow, Rav Shmelke Pinter" and which included Pinchos Landau, Getzel Berger, Shaul Bodner, Wolf Schiff, Efrayim Nussbaum, Yechiel Schwimmer, Sholom Hanstater and Avrohom and Mendel Getter.

So no mistake there. Pinter the Elder was firmly in attendance at the school's founding meeting and which would make him a co-founder of the school.

Now for some facts. I am told that in 1943 Pinter was a melamed (Hebrew teacher) at the school of 6 year olds. One former pupil told me that Pinter Senior taught him mishanyos. Another former pupil told me that in 1948 Pinter was teaching 8 year olds and that he taught him gemore. Knowing the status of melamdim in general even these days and all the more so then, one can reasonably question whether a future melamed would be invited to a meeting attended by the Great and the Good. But let's leave assumptions and, you might say, prejudices aside and concentrate on the more concrete evidence.

1957, Dec 20 - Part 3The above (click to enlarge) is a JC article from 1957 under Reb Shmelke Pinter's byline who by then was well enough established at the school to be titled Prinicpal. The JC had published an entire supplement that week dedicated to the school and also in aid of a forthcoming fundraising dinner. (Note the Guest of Honour!) . Pinter starts the article with this same epic 1942 meeting and lists all the attendees save for one significant omission. Himself. This begs the question: are we to believe that at a time when he had yet to establish himself as the sole principal operator, his title notwithstanding, he failed to place himself at the centre of the action? Or is it the case that he was simply not there?

A World Apart, 120-121If you are still following me, there is even more to it. This meeting is also mention in A World Apart, The Story of the Chasidim in Britain (London, 1997) by Harry Rabinowicz, and it gives as its source the above JC article. But note how by then myth is surreptitiously replacing fact. In the JC article, Reb Shmelke quotes Rav Pardes addressing the meeting, "We are in serious danger." But in Rabinowicz, published when Reb Shmelke was no longer with us, these epic words are uttered by Rabbi Pardes "clad in tallit and kittel " before Kol Nidrei when he "extracted a solemn pledge from Rabbi Shmelke to establish a Jewish day-school." If this is to be believed, it is remarkable that Reb Shmelke himself mentions none of it in his article back in 1957. But then stranger things have happened in that place.

The myth making does not end there either. A page further Rabinowicz has Pinter acquiring a disused nursing home at 2/4 Amhurst Park in 1948 , which is still the site of the nursery and boys' school. Besides the fact that it was the Getter brothers and Getzel Berger who donated the Amhurst Park buildings, as mentioned above in 1948 Pinter was still a melamed and at that time was acquiring little else but his meagre salary.

Let's leave it to another day to fill in on some of the true history of the school, a lot of which is well worth repeating but unfortunately cannot be spotted by the current ‘owners’ who care for little more than some name dropping. For now, significant omissions in the Hamodia series include the first head of the school Myer Dominitz, the Lieger Rov who was head of Kodesh at the school during some time in the '50s, those who chaired the building fund during the school’s early years, the trustees of the Great Garden Street Talmud Torah of the East End who made substantial donations to the school, the Chief Rabbis and London Beth Din Dayonim who helped it along and many others. Athough Hamodia did mention Wolf Schiff as having attended the founding meeting no mention was made of his running of the school during those difficult early years and without whom the entire project may have folded. (Oh, and shhh don’t mention the boxing match.)

Instead we were fed Pinter ad nauseum and given a roster of gedoilim who stepped in from time to time when paying one of their flying visits but who contributed little to the school. It fits the zeitgeist perfectly, I guess, and so big deal if the historical record is ever so slightly distorted. There are no qualified teachers to check, so who really cares. As we say, there are lies, damn lies and Yesodey Hatorah history.


Anonymous said...

Does the Hamodia history show that class 1 was mixed in the late 1940s and early 1950s?

IfYouTickleUs said...

Anon, good point. The Hamodia writes, "The school opened... with classes for boys and for girls." Read that how you will.

In fact, it was not only class 1 that was mixed but all classes for the first few years but for secular subjects only.

My further enquiries also suggest that Pinter was not even a melamed at the very start in 1942 and he only later joined the school.

Anonymous said...

I remember it well, all those pretty future rebitzens. How about the YHS football would be nice to read a report in Hamodia about the under 12 team's thrashing of Clarks College 5-0 and then 5-1 at Milllfields and the seniors winning all they played against. What about the athletics in Finsbury park? Surely a history of a school should show the remarkable sporting achievements of its very talented athletes who went on to be pillars of the community. Hamodia has also erased 'yoshki' from YHS history.

hershel said...

I don't really care for this nonsense, but the JC proof of yours is poor. Pinter is clearly taking his own attendance for granted, as is clear from his description of the speech. A few words in, he writes "he cautioned us". Tickle on.

IfYouTickleUs said...

hershel, the entire article is written in the plural. Pinter had zero association with the school at its inception and, the evidence aside, there was no reason why he should have been there.

Anonymous said...

The first Melamed was R' Mordchai Schleider (Max),Zatzal who was an elterer Bochur at the time, & crowned by R' Pardes as a mechanech mumcheh. The Gateshead Rov R' Betzalel Rackow called him A Tzadik Nistor, he was also one of the only people to receive smichah fromDayan Grunspan Zatzal from Glassgow.
Seeing he was single & Reb Shmelka had a small family already & no means to support them, Reb Mordchai gave up his job, so that Reb Shmelka zatazal would take it, and be able to support his family.
Reb Shmelka was machshiv R' mordchai & makir Tova to him ad soif yomov. He had no problem telling the story in public, when one of his misspallelim, made a shiduch with Reb Mordchai zatza'l.
Obviously he never made up stories himself.
You may want to interview Hashi Deutsch davens at 69, he was a talmid of Reb Mordchai Schleider,& was probably from the earlier talmidim at YHS. Or Sodi Torah as we once knew it.

IfYouTickleUs said...

Here is a story I was told regarding Reb Mordche Schleider. In the early years of the school there were 4 melamdim, Braziner, Reb Mordche, Reb Shmelke and Pesach Hirschler, though the person who told me this wasn't certain about Hirschler.

At some point the school couldn't afford 4 melamdim and it was decided to dismiss one melamed. Not knowing whom to choose, Rav Pardes drew lots and Reb Shmelke's name came up. It was at this stage that Reb Mordche offered to step aside instead.

Which leads us to one of the great what ifs of our local history.

sh educated said...

I was in YHS in the early 50s and remember both Rebbes Hischler and Braciener.

Reb Pesach Hirschler was one of the most beloved melamdim there and I still have fond memories of him. Rabbi Braciener left shortly after to become a dayan in the Federation which I believe he remained as for the rest of his life.

By the early or mid 50s Rebbe Pinter was something in the office, I was too young to understand what, and not a melamed. In fact the talmidim had very little to do with him.

The undisputed, I hope, best rebbe was Rebbe Rand who moved later to Manchester.

Yossi Heller said...

I can't wait for the Hamodia write up about Pardes House School

IfYouTickleUs said...

SH Ed, Pinter titled himself Prinicpal but Chair of the Board of Governors (and all of the board too) would have been a more accurate job description. This love of the title Principal has been inherited by his son who also fulfils few prinicpal roles, though in the latter's case to draw a wage nothing other than principal will do.

Yossi, the JC archives suggest that in its early days Pardes was considered almost a satellite of YHS.

pardes house said...

Pardes is called that because it was a branch of YHS and the original Pardes badge had YHS written on it.

sh educated said...

Mr. Tickle.

That is correct. Indeed what later became Pardes House started in a house in Sneath Avenue as "Yesodey Hatorah Golders Green".
This was about 1956/57.

Then, as now, the education ethic in Golders Green was different to Stamford Hill and as was inevitable eventually the new school parted from the YHS and its ethic to become independent of the Stamford Hill influence. As it is now.

Just one (of many) examples - the length of your wife's sheitel (or if she wears one at all!) is not a criterion in the decision as to whether your child should be accepted in the school.

IfYouTickleUs said...

Are you aware of a din torah where YHS accused PH of poaching boys? I once heard of something like that but no further details.

sh educated said...

Mr. Tickle.

No. But I left (what later became)PH in 1955. At that time it was still known, at least to the boys, as Yesoidey Hatorah Golders Green. For family reasons I lost touch with Golders Green for several years and by the time I had "re-connected" it had moved to a freestanding house at 181 West Heath Road and was called Pardes House. As far as I know, by then it was completely independent of YHS.

It is highly unlikely that there was ever a din torah because at that time R' Elchonon Halpern was the (honourary) president of PH and also, of course, a dayan on the then fledgling UOHC beis din.

sh educate said...

Error in my post of 30.1.14 10:59

1956/57 should be 1953/54


Anonymous said...

Pardes was started by Reb Sender Dominitz Zatzal. He took Reb sason Abraham as the first melamed, & took food from Stamford Hill YHS, daily.
Two weeks after he started he took a second Melamed for Chumish, Reb Menachem (Manny) Silver, later Rav Karnovsky.
AT some point Reb Elchonon Halpern hijacked the project & tossed the melamdim. Replacing them with Reb Yossele Weiss etc, trying to make it into a chasidishe chader, which didn't stick.
He later took back Reb KarnovskY & few years later Rabbi Abraham as menahel.

Anonymous said...

I was a pupil of Pardes House having joine din 1956. The connection between YHS and PHS was still quite sound for a number of eyar and Reb Shmelke used to visit PHS a few times a year.

For your reference Dayan Braceiner ztl left YHS to take over from the late Rabbi Sasoon Abraham zl as headmaster in 1960. Rabbi Abraham had fallen out with the governors over his approach to yiddish and chol. During that time Dayan Bracener remained Rov of Montague Road in Dalston until his move to Finchley Federation and was appoimnted a Dayan at the Federation some time later.

sh educated said...

Reb Yossel Weiss joined Pardes House only long after the move to West Heath Road. He only came to England at the end of 1956.
It is true that Rabbi Abraham was (one of) the first melamed(im). Manny Silver was also much later and was not there for very long.

Infants 51 said...

In the years I was at Pardes House Rabbi Sasson Hai Abraham was the headmaster, and Rabbi Dominitz was only an occasional visitor who ran a concert and trained us to sing "Lo Mir Alleh Lichtig Zein....." Rav Chune Halpern was definitely the person in charge and was titled principal. He came once a week, and when the neighbours protested about the noise on Sunday mornings, classes were relocated to Rav Chune's Bais hamedrash. Rabbi Lieberman from Stamford Hill was a rebbe I specially liked, although his deteriorating eyesight caused him to retire young. There are other melamdim who are still alive from taht period of time who can also give the facts and realities.

Leyzer said...

Anonymous4 February 2014 12:53
... Rabbi Abraham had fallen out with the governors over his approach to yiddish and chol.

Interesting you say that for I believe it was at least one of the reasons that Rabbi Moshe Dovid Berkovits (not Rabbi Dovid Berkowitz per the Hamodia apology) likewise left. He was of the opinion that the school tried to foist Yiddish on the kids despite their lack of understanding of it, and were using Chumash lessons as a vehicle of teaching Yiddish. One particularly noteworthy example: he fathered them about Poroh Adumoh which rh children thought was a red key.