• Home
  • Parashah Insights
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals & Fasts
  • Articles
  • Books
  • About
  •  

    All those years ago – Hampstead Review 2017/18

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in the 125th Anniversary edition of the Hampstead Review 5778 (2017/18), published by Hampstead Synagogue, London.

    As a Jews’ College student I often helped out with the Torah reading at the historic Bayswater Synagogue and when the Bayswater minister, Rev. Sidney Gold, moved to Birmingham I was appointed to his pulpit.

    Later I applied for the vacancy at Hampstead that arose when Rev. Dr Isaac Levy became director of the JNF and I found myself in 1965 the chosen candidate.

    In Melbourne, Australia, where my family lived, my father happened to meet Minnie Sheink, Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie’s sister. They discussed Hampstead – and me. My father wrote, “She congratulated me on your appointment to Hampstead and said, ‘I’m sure he didn’t get the job because of his good looks!’”

    I’m not certain how she knew about Hampstead, maybe from the Jewish Chronicle or perhaps from her brother. The wits said something about an apple getting a plum job, though no one else made any comment about my looks.

    Actually Mrs Sheink could have said something about my voice – not my speaking voice, which my wife says was what attracted me to her, but my non-existent musical ability. Neither Hampstead nor any other shul thought much of me as a chazan, though I believe I was a relatively harmonious ba’al kriah (Torah reader).

    Hampstead was a place of arrival, one of the community’s most prestigious pulpits. Our congregation knew how to behave in shul and outside (Chaim Bermant wrote in the Jewish Chronicle that in places like Hampstead the minister spoke grammatical English and the congregants didn’t spit on the floor). The minister was presumed to have the makings and manners of an English gentleman. I was so English that I wore striped trousers, black jacket and a bowler hat on Shabbat. I even had a clerical collar but abandoned it after a while in favour of a white shirt and black tie.

    Maybe my Englishness is why Chief Rabbi Jakobovits sent me to represent him at places as august as the Mansion House.

    The Hampstead service was Minhag Anglia (“the English usage”) at its height. Singer’s siddur ruled, with the Routledge machzor (festival prayer book) and the musical “blue book”.

    At that stage Hampstead and a number of other London synagogues had mixed choirs, though now all have gone. Apart from a few more Orthodox congregants, Hampstead loved its choir, though a certain male member used to say, “When I hear the female soloist in the choir it sends shivers down my back!”

    My wife Marian and I and our children settled into 13 Fawley Road and later 533 Finchley Road. We often meandered up to the Heath and on sunny weekend afternoons would go as far as Hampstead Garden Suburb, where Marian’s aunt and uncle lived in Church Mount. Our children enjoyed their outings to the local parks. When we drove them to North West London Jewish Day School we would cross the railway line and little voices piped up, “Hello train, bye-bye train!” We and our children made friends with many locals, especially the Goldschmidt family of Westbere Road.

    My colleague Rev. Charles Lowy was a remarkable chazan. His urbanity and harmony were severely tested during the Holocaust. Somehow he emerged from the horrible years with his faith and sense of humour intact and years later his daughter and son published his often whimsical stories in a book which they titled “In and Out of Harmony: Tales of a Cantor in the Hitler Era”.

    The Shul office was manned by Phineas May, the United Synagogue’s most talented administrator (and its resident caricaturist), helped by Julius Bernstein, who came back to duty as beadle so often that they called him “the retiring Mr Bernstein”. Charles and Magda Lowy and Phineas and Vivienne May were really dear friends. When Vivienne compiled a cookery book she even got me to write the Foreword.

    My predecessor, Dr Levy, occupied Seat No 1 and I suspected (though he never told me so himself) that he didn’t always approve of my sermons even though he had been my homiletics teacher at Jews’ College. Chaim Bermant, who came to the Shul occasionally, did approve of what he called my “felicities of expression” and thought that Hampstead had the best Shabbat service in London.

    The first time we visited Hampstead after leaving for Australia they thought they could catch me out with Hebrew names. Stanley Kershaw, the then beadle, threw the question at me, “What is Toddy Simons’ Hebrew name?” Fortunately I knew the answer. Toddy too (real name Hyman A Simons) was a dear friend. Old-timers will remember his regular letters in the JC; I recall how he used a green typewriter ribbon. Toddy encouraged me as a budding historian (I had written a history of Hampstead) but the United Synagogue would not give me leave of absence in order to write its history.

    In late 1972 I moved back to Australia as senior rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and held that position for 32 years. At one stage when there was a vacancy at Hampstead, an honorary officer who was visiting Australia asked if I would like the job back but I declined.

    All these decades later, our seven and a half years at Hampstead remain amongst Marian’s and my choicest memories.

    See also: “In Farewell to Hampstead”

    Comments are closed.