David chronicles Jewish Derby

SPECIAL VISITOR: Then-Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie's official reception at Derby Hebrew Congregation on June 22, 1949. Pictured, from left: Derby Hebrew Congregation president Harris Levy, Mrs F Brodie, Rabbi Brodie, the Mayor and Mayoress of Derby, Charles and C F Bowmer, and Rev Maurice Rose and his mother

DAVID Beeston has a long-standing interest in Judaism. His father was "extremely philo-semitic".

David said: "My father always drummed into us that the way Christianity had treated the Jews was the biggest stain on Christianity."

It has led him to write Momentous Years: The Rise and Fall of the Derby Hebrew Congregation, 1899-1986 (Birchwood Publications, 8).

Established in 1899, during an era of large-scale Jewish immigration into late-Victorian Britain, the Derby Jewish community initially represented one of the country's smaller Jewish communities.

But, over a period of 60 years, it developed into a successful and self-sufficient organisation.

"I suppose it is unusual for a gentile like myself to be as interested in Judaism as I am," said David, who lives in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

"My father, like most Peak District farmers, was a Congregationalist and very pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.

"I became immersed in Jewish history and was surprised to learn that there was an organised Jewish community in Derby, 14 miles from where I was born."

David discovered a smattering of German Jews in Derby as far back as 1837. However, the majority found their way there in 1881 to escape the tsarist-sponsored pogroms in the Russian Empire.

And, by 1899, when they established a synagogue in Burton Road, as well as a burial ground, the Jews in Derby numbered around 110.

David, who has also written Hospitable, Generous England: Anti-Semitic Journalism and Literature in Britain During the First World War and Its Aftermath, explained: "Harris Levy was one of the leading lights of the community.

"He had been born in Russia in 1879 and settled in Derby in 1908, which indicates that he may have lived somewhere else first.

"Up until the First World War, there was indifference to the Jewish community in Derby.

"However, during that war, it was tense as some believed that Jews were not serving the country.

"The grim irony, of course, is that the Jews were over-represented in the British armed forces in population to their numbers.

"Max Markovitz, from the village of Tideswell, in Derbyshire, was killed in the First World War.

"His family later established Markovitz Builders & Plumbers' Merchants, which is still going today."

David said that the Derby shul was known in Midlands Jewish circles as the "greenhouse" because of its sliding glass roof - which was paid for by American Jewish soldiers who served in the area during the Second World War.

"It was in the lead-up to and during that war that more Jewish people came to Derby in the shape of the Kindertransport, refugees from Europe, evacuees and American GIs," he continued.

"From 1939 to 1959, the community soared to new heights and included a visit, in 1949, from the-then Chief Rabbi, Israel Brodie.

"It began to decrease because many members did not have strong and emotional connections with the place, while the more deeply religious tended to move to places with much bigger Jewish communities, such as London or Manchester.

"The British Union of Fascists was also active in Derby, namely because of an unpleasant character called Tommy Moran, who was a rabble rouser.

"They would hold meetings in Market Place, where many of the Jewish market stall holders traded."

The community never had a rabbi, but always had a minister and, with no conspicuously-wealthy businessmen, David said, it was funded by wealthy families, such as the Rothschilds, who were "always generous when approached".

The shul held its final service in 1986, with 35 of its members present.

"I wanted the book to be analytical, so there are not many interviews in it," David added.

"One of the people I spoke to who lived in Derby until her death was Helen Berman. Her husband worked at the British Celanese chemical company, which was originally started by two Jewish brothers in Switzerland."

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