Oral History Interview - Tzvi Rabin

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Oral History Interview - Tzvi Rabin

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Oral History Interview with Mr Tzvi (Howard) Rabin MBE, born 1947 in Romford. Tzvi works for the Lubavitch Lending Library.

This interview was recorded as part of a project exploring the Jewish History of Stamford Hill, 1930s-1950s.


When and where were you born? [00:00:01]

My name is Tzvi Rabin and I was born in London in 1947 and we lived at the time in Elm Park, just past Romford and there were two shuls at the time and two synagogues, and we moved back very very soon to Dalston to my grandparents’ house, my father’s parents’ house in Dalston. And I can remember living in my grandparents’ house in Dalston when I was very very young, and we moved when I was about three to Stoke Newington and we lived there until about 1960.

So where were your parents brought up? [00:00:45]

My father was brought up in Dalston and my mother was born in Manor Road in 1921.
My grandfather, my zeida had bought the house in Manor Road before the First World War and my mother was the eighth of ten children and so as a child I was surrounded by a lots of my uncles and aunts and cousins and um that’s where they were brought up.

Which school did you learn in? [00:01:20]

First of all when I was five I went to Bethnal Road Infants School which was a very new school just built just after the war and was very very new and about half the children in Bethnal Road School were Jewish. And we all went home early on Friday afternoon and we all didn’t go to school on Yom Tov, none of the Jewish children went to school on Yom Tov and all the Yomim Tovim (Jewish Festivals), basically Shavuos, Succoth as well…. And so that’s where I first went to school, I don’t have too many memories of that.

The I moved when I was about eight, we went, I went to Northwold School which is a very big school and once again half the children in the school were Jewish and we had a Jewish headmaster, Mr Kirshall, a Shomer Shabbos headmaster and he was an observant Jew and I can remember him talking to us about going to shul, going to the Synagogue on Hoshana Rabbe. I don’t know why he used to always talk to us about going to shul on Hoshana Rabbe, well I can’t remember that… And we had some Jewish teachers as well and then when I passed my 11 plus I went to grammar school and Central Foundation Boys School. And once again half the children and half the boys, and at least half, probably more than half were Jewish and we had kosher meals in school and nobody went to school, nobody went to school on Yom Tov, although Friday afternoon was less, less likely that boys would go home early then there was in the other schools.

There were a lot of boys who went to that school who came from the East End but there was quite a lot who also came from Stoke Newington, Stamford Hill as well went there and we had, once a week we had Jewish lessons, Jewish religious education with Mr Kraumer who lived in Linthorpe Road, a very kind hearted man but not a very good teacher.

So what types of jobs did Jewish people work with? [00:03:40]

Both my grandparents were in the fur trade and my father was in the fur trade. We had other relatives who were also in the fur trade, it was a very common thing for Jewish people to do at the time. There were a lot who owned shops, tailor shops, food shops, kosher butchers…You know the other things that Jewish people do. Next door to my father’s parents lived Mr Weinbaum who was a Shochet, Mohel and, and…

What was the Jewish kehilla (congregation) like, the shuls, the food? [00:04:19]

Well there were, in Dalston, Stoke Newington, Stamford Hill, there were lots and lots and lots of shuls and a very lot of shuls, all of the English type, those were the shuls that I remember. Most of
the shuls that I remember at that time don’t exist anymore, but we went to the Ratzon Tov Shul, the West Hackney shul which was built after the war to replace the shul that was bombed during the war. That’s where my zeida, I used to go there with my zeida regularly and I used to go also Friday night, we used to go to Montague Road which was a very very big shul, where Rabbi Dessler was the Rav during the war before he went to Gateshead to open the Kolel, he was the Rav there.
Food, food…There were Jewish food shops all over the place…

What is the history of the library and your role in it? [00:05:17]

Uh, the library. Well I was advised by my teacher in school, who I was quite close with and was very kind to me, that I should consider librarianship as a profession, not a very common profession amongst Jews. And so I did, I started working with libraries in 1969 and that was roughly the time that I got involved with Lubavitch, before that I went to shul three times a day and went to shiur etc and then, during my engagement to my wife we decided that Lubavitch was for us and we got married halfway through my librarianship course. I studied librarianship in Newcastle and lived therefore in Gateshead. And when we came back to London after I finished my course, I got a job in a college library and at the time there used to be hook-ups when the Rebbe, the Lubavitcher Rebbe used to speak in the middle of the week, they would relate over here by telephone link so we could hear it in the middle of the night, because he used to speak at half past nine in the evening which is 2:30 in the morning here.

And somebody came to me and said, the Rebbe is speaking and I see you didn’t come the last few times, because I used to get up very early in the morning to go to South London to work, and come, you know you ought to come. So I came you understand and I chapped (realised) in the middle that the Rebbe was speaking about that every Jewish community should have a library. A library where people can come and borrow books and it should be easy for them to come and borrow books. And it should be every sort of Jewish book from Alef Beis (Hebrew Alphabet) to advanced learning, you know Gemora, Chassidus and that sort of things. And that’s something that should be done.
Well, I was a librarian, so there you are, it fell upon me. And we started with a small cupboard of books and it grew and grew and then we moved out from that building into this building, which is now too small, and that’s how, how the library started and that’s how I got involved in it, and that’s how it is now.

[00:08:23] When my grandparents lived in Dalston, there were a large number of Jewish people living in the area and there were lots of shuls, lots of synagogues, and besides the English style big synagogues, there were also a number of shtieblech, small synagogues in houses, especially in Sandrigham Road with a Biale Shtiebel in St Marks Rise, around the corner from Ridley Road market, which I don’t remember at all. But I do remember going in Sandrigham Road to the shtiebel, we couldn’t understand a word! And when we lived in Stoke Newington our street was about 30% Jewish. Most of the Jewish people there were not very observant, but they were to a certain standard and when we moved up to Stamford Hill, to Castlewood Road, there were on our block only two non-Jewish families, but not very many observant Jewish families or very observant, Sabath observant families – majority of them were not.

In my teenage years most of my friends were Shomer Shabbos, that is where Sabath observant families, but they were not the sort of people you find very many of in Stamford Hill nowadays. They were, they obviously weren’t Chassidish, they were… They were English style observant Jews. Now Egerton Road synagogue which was very very anglicised, orthodox but very very anglicised, was on Saturday morning, was absolutely packed, you know, difficult to find a seat almost and we’re talking in the mid-sixties and those types of synagogues have either diminished in size, as Egerton Road is still going but has let’s say 20 people now and Crowland Road is still going in Crowland Road, at one time I went there every day… And those had prayers three times a day and those that are left are now much less active and they’ve been replaced by the Chassidish shuls of which I knew very little when I was young. Though I do remember, at least one childhood memory for you, I do remember when I was about four or five and we were living in Stoke Newington, I had an aunt and uncle who lived in Darenth Road, and on Rosh Hashana in the afternoon, we went to shul in the morning and then after eating we went in the afternoon to visit my uncle and aunty in Darenth Road. Walking up Kyverdale Road, I saw a shtreimel (Hassidic fur hat) for the first time and I turned to my father and I said, “Daddy will it eat me?” Because I had never seen such a thing, and you can imagine for some people it is very frightening, for us is an everyday occurrence, but in those days it wasn’t very common at all. And as the thing changed, even for the last 20/25 years… I mean I know for example that the people who were brought up in Tottenham Adass, a very dramatic stroke Lithuanian type, their children all moved away because they don’t want to be dominated by the, by the Shtreimlech… So they find the, the mannerisms difficult to put up with it, because of the change of the type of…

[00:13:04] So I used to go regularly to the West Hackney synagogue, Rotzon Tov shul – Rotzon Tov means good will and it was comparatively small and on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holy days, they had 250 people about, packed in like sardines. And we used to go on all the festivals we used to say what was known as Yotzros, which are a special poems added in to the prayers of festivals and other occasions. And I can remember we used to say the prayer, in all the English synagogues they used to say the prayer for the queen and I used to sit near my grandfather and he used to have his old Russian set of festival prayer books, Machzorim, which would have the prayer for, what we had was the prayer for the Queen, he used to have the prayer for Alexandra Alexandrovich and the Tzarina Alexandra Feodorovna and that was printed in Hebrew in his Machzorim, his festival prayer books.

Friday night, we used to go to the Montesquieu Road synagogue which was very large and comparatively more Heimish, which means more traditional, bit less English, but the synagogues by then were all dying, on their way down as the people were moving out.

After my Bar Mitzvah, I joined the choir in Shacklewell Lane Shul which was around the corner from us and I sang in the choir there for 7-8 years and that is where I really learned to daven (pray) and that was a bit more English. But as I got older, sometimes I went to, as we were living in Castlewood Road and Egerton Road was around the corner, so sometimes we used to go Shabbos morning to Egerton Road synagogue which was absolutely packed and that was even more English, very much more English, in fact the most English shul I know, most Orthodox English synagogue I know, we still got it, was in Brent House Road in Hackney, past Hackney Town Hall further south, further towards the East End and that was very very very English and I think they sang the National Anthem there every week, but it was Orthodox, you know the men sat downstairs, the women sat upstairs… and the davening was the same seder of davening as the other shuls had.

And…But I went to a lot of different shuls on occasions, the only one in that area that I never went to is in Morford Road, which is the only one still in existence. I was about 35 by the first time I ever stepped foot there for some reason or other, and that is still going. And interestingly enough, although it was an Ashkenazi shul a lot of the people who go there regularly are Sephardi, because Stoke Newington has a… has a large Sephardi population. I don’t know why they settled around that place, behind the Police Station…. So they go there, that’s their local shul.

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