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Hindsight: Interviews with some Bet Tikvah members

Lina Fajerman interviews members of Bet Tikvah about their lives.

Pearl Miller
What were the happiest times in your life?
Being a wife and mother and now a grandmother – I married late  and thought I had missed  having children. I especially enjoyed the children. They were a lot of fun  and I enjoyed their company.
I enjoyed going to teachers’ training college in the 1950s for two years. As well as teaching infants I became a part-time youth leader for a few years at Stamford  Hill youth club.
What were the saddest times in your life?
To lose family members especially my younger brother, Adrian who died when he was just 53. I was especially close to him. When he was about six and I was 13, we went together for evacuation  during the war to Marlow in Buckinghamshire.  I looked after him as he had asthma. The woman who took us in was unkind to us. He was infected with ringworm and the doctor told our mother to take him home to nurse him back to health which she did. The local children who had ringworm on their heads came to school with a handkerchief tied at the four corners to cover their heads.
I went to do war work in a factory that made boring and drilling machines that were sent to Russia. I filed plans and made copies of documents.
What were the loneliest times of your life? 
I suppose after the break up of my marriage of 27 years.
Do you think your generation is happier than younger generations?
I don’t  know. Perhaps younger people expect more these days. I am glad for a roof of my own over my head and for my income from my pension.
If you could turn the clock back what would you change?
I don’t know if anyone has the ability to change things for the better, but I personally hate a world that continually engages in cruelty, wars and terror. So futile !
What would you do differently?
Difficult to answer -  as in the Robert Frost poem, The road not taken, you can’t know what the outcome would have been if you had done something different.
Do you have any regrets about any of your actions?
I could have been more forceful in certain ways. I was fond of art and my older brother paid for me to go to art school for a time. I never seriously thought of going further and finding out if I had real talent and could do it as a career or if I was just a dabbler.
Do you have any regrets about not taking certain actions?
I love music and wish I had learned to play an instrument.  My mother offered to pay for piano lessons. I turned down her kind offer because I wouldn’t promise to practise. I much regret that now.

Joe Swinburne
What were the happiest times of your life?

When my son and grandchildren were born and watching their lives develop as you had hoped. A sense of pride at being involved in the founding of the synagogue. My second Barmitzvah was very special and I was very appreciative of the way the community responded. I count myself fortunate.
What does Bet Tikvah mean to you?

I spent many years heavily involved in the administration of North London Progressive Synagogue in its heyday.  That ended when, with others, I helped set up its Group at Barnados and helped in its running for some 5 years. Then in 1981 came all the excitement, optimistic expectation and hopeful promise in the creating of a new Synagogue. That, and the gradual development of BPS [Barkingside Progressive Synagogue, which was re-named] Bet Tikvah, brought into my life a new element of responsibility and involvement that made my Judaism more and more meaningful. I also feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to help in bringing the active practice of Progressive Judaism into the lives of others.
What were the saddest times of your life?

Family deaths, each one a blow and also particular community members deaths. The war fatalities at Hughes Mansions. Firstly Julie’s mother in 1941 and then, almost exactly four years later, the rocket attack that killed 127 people, among whom were my many friends and their families. Dreadful events that haunt me still.
I also experienced disappointment at the way the shul developed after its founding in 1981. I had hoped the shul and its building would be a focal point for Progressive Jewish activity but that has not happened to the extent of my hopes. And, although our numbers grew from 100 to 450 members, too many are inactive and invisible.
Are you happier now than when you were young?

Events that give happiness change over one’s life. I am more content in my outlook. As you grow older, you learn better how to cope with situations. I have found that an actual event rarely measures up to the anticipation of it both for the good or bad. I have a strong belief that things will happen for the best.
Do you think your generation is happier than  younger generations?

I am sure that my generation is happier than my parent’s generation. My parents’ life would in no way measure up to life today.
I find it very hard to put myself back in the past. Even my war service seems to have happened to another person
Life is so different for a youngster now. I have never been discouraged by young people’s ability to cope. I have no memory of drugs and alcohol as a problem in my youth. Young people today have to develop abilities that were not needed in previous generations.
If you could turn the clock back what would you change?

I would never use that phrase – its pointless. One should not indulge oneself. One makes decisions one considers to be right at the time and if the decision is wrong, nothing can be done.
What would you do differently?

I worked in local government all my life and although it was not originally well paid there were good fringe benefits. In my late 20s someone at work was opening his own business and offered me a post as company secretary. Although they raised the offer from 20 shillings to 30 shillings a week. I decided not to move. I was conditioned to the security aspect of my job. Within 5 years the business expanded with branches all over London and the person who took the company secretary role had become the director. Nevertheless my decision was right for me at the time and I never regretted it.
However when there was a local government reorganisation in 1965 I got a substantial promotion and was always happy in my job.
Do you have any regrets about not taking certain actions?

I would have loved to learn to play a musical instrument.
I only became involved in Jewish affairs at the age of 35 when I moved house and lived across the road from, and joined North London Progressive synagogue. I learnt more about Judaism in my first 3 years there than I had in the whole of my previous life.
My involvement in Jewish communal affairs has been a massive part of my life and I am very grateful for that
My wife Julie has been, and continues to be, a constant and firm support in all my activities…and that has been vital in all that I have been involved in.

Jean Summerbell
What were the happiest times of your life?
When my Husband was alive; the children were young and my parents were around. When I got married at North London Synagogue, I had a white wedding. The reception was in the library hall at Stoke Newington – all the family and friends were invited.

What does Bet Tikvah mean to you?
I was pleased when Bob became involved with the renovation of the Synagogue.  One of the many things he made for the Shul is the Weathervane that I can still see today. We were at Shul most Sundays working on the building, with Michelle our Daughter and with Rose and Barry Lautman and their daughters. Looking back, they were good times. We were all involved in something new and exciting and it’s nice to think now, we have had a hand in what is here today. I feel very honoured to have been at the beginning with such a lovely group of dedicated individuals who all worked so hard to get the Shul started.

When Bob died all the members from Shul were so kind and supportive, I continued to attend every Friday and some Saturdays and have enjoyed being part of the Ladies association and singing in the choir and have made some very wonderful friendships. It has really given me meaning and purpose to my life. I am still so happy to be associated with Bet Tikvah.
What were the saddest times?

When Bob died just 5 days before his 57th birthday after a long illness and when my parents died. I also felt very sad when I was evacuated during the war. I was sent away from my family in Stamford Hill when I was nearly 9. I was evacuated to Breechwood Green in Hertfordshire in a Gamekeeper's cottage. There was no electricity or running water and the lighting was by paraffin lamp and not forgetting there wasn’t any proper sanitation! 

I was there for around 10 months; Breechwood Green is now apparently at the end of Luton Airports runway. One night a bomb fell nearby in the woods, making a huge crater. When I heard the noise from the bomb, I thought it was thunder but when I went to school the next day I found out it had been a bomb. The Gamekeeper and his wife did not have any children of their own and were always very kind and generous to me. They put up a swing in one of the barns for me and at Christmas time he had made me wooden toy furniture. I did not fully appreciate at the time how kind they were to me. When I look back I think that people were so giving of themselves to take the evacuees in. 

I was evacuated a second time to Daventry, here we were marched around the streets in a large group where people could come out of their homes and chose who they wanted. I was with a friend but people said they could only take in one child, I felt very upset and unwanted. Looking back the whole experience was very humiliating. Again one night bombs fell, I think they may have been aiming for the radio station not far from where I was living.
I wrote home in big letters “I AM CRYING, I AM CRYING, I AM CRYING’ I didn’t want to stay but my Father insisted that I did. As much as I was upset the family were very good to me. It made me appreciate my own home more.

What was the loneliest time in your life?
When Bob died and when I was evacuated as a child; growing up I also missed not having a Brother or Sister.
Are you happier now than when you were young?

I am reasonably happy and content now.  I have children and grandchildren.
Do you think your generation is happier than the younger generation?

I think we were happier (except for the war). Young people think we need too many things to make them happy. They are not free to have simple pleasures we had as children. We could play outside, that doesn’t seem possible now. When I was evacuated, we went for rambles and took a picnic. We could be out for hours without adults and no one worried.
Now children have everything geared for them to have different things. It hasn’t made them happier. If they haven’t got it they feel let down. It must be very expensive for parents now.

When we lived in Bow and I was just 6, I played out in the street; we all played in the street. Now parents take their children to different things like swimming, brownies and guides, it’s all so organised.
Do you have any regrets?

Not really; but I have always been content to stay at home and raise a family. I have 3 wonderful children and 3 lovely granddaughters and Blue, Michelle’s rather special dog. As we get older we need our family nearby, as much as I want to remain independent.
My family are very good, and are always there for me. I know I am very lucky.
People should be grateful for what they have.
Sidney Sanders
What were the happiest times in your life?
My two marriages: I  had a wonderful first marriage to Sylvia lasting 42 years and consider myself extremely fortunate to have been happily married to Miriam,  my second wife now for almost 25 years. We will be celebrating our twenty fifth anniversary in April with a kiddush at the shul.
I also look on the achievements of my two sons with a sense of great pride.
What were the saddest times in your life?
The loss of family, especially my first wife who, while in and out of hospital  for several years, displayed great courage. Even at the end, she was more concerned about other patients on the ward than about herself.
What was the loneliest time In your life?
When I first went abroad in the RAF. Although I  was surrounded by people and had the companionship of other service personnel, I was missing affection and love. I was just over nineteen and Sylvia nineteen and a half. when we married, even though we were advised to wait; told that we were too young; that our relationship would not last. Just a few months later I was called up, and after training in Bolton as a wireless mechanic, I was sent to India in 1943, initially to Bangalore and then to North Bengal. I was away from home for more than three years.
Did you have any special memories of the war?
I have very vivid memories of air-raids on London, spending nights in shelters, sometimes in London Underground stations   I also have memories of India, many are  very good, but some less good.

After about two years there, we were transferred to the Cocos Islands where we established a base on which we serviced the aircraft carrying out operations against the Japanese.  The islands – a coral atoll  -  are situated halfway  between India and Australia. The island we  were on was less than a mile long with the highest point only 6 foot above sea level, and very vulnerable to an anticipated tidal wave, which thankfully did not materialise. Happily the only ‘danger’ we had to guard against  was being hit by coconuts falling onto our heads !!!  I even learnt to swim in the Lagoon. It was indeed an idyllic coral island.
On the way back to England we were located for a time in Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, I was once given a lift by officers in a staff car. When I got in I found that I was sharing the back of the car with a leopard. Both the leopard and I survived the journey.
Are you happier now than when you were young?
In some ways yes. I don’t have the worries that beset young people - such as making a living, developing a career. I am not happier though when I think of the state of our world today.
When I was young we had idealism. We were optimistic about the future and the opportunities to do things with ones life.
Now I am worried about the world that our grandchildren are inheriting from us. There is disillusionment with organisations that we once looked up to, and concern as to way peoples’ values and motivations have changed.  We have not overcome the disparities between communities and peoples. So in that respect I am less happy than I used to be.
Do you think your generations is happier than the younger generation?
This is a question that I often ask myself. Technology and science have opened up so many possibilities. In many ways things have changed for the better but we have also lost a lot. We  got pleasure and satisfaction from small things. I don’t know whether  the present generation, with so much  available  to them, get that kind of satisfaction.
If you could turn the clock back is there anything you would change or do differently?
Careerwise I would have done something different. While in the service in India, I did a correspondence course in Accounting and Company Secretaryship. I sat up nights studying, but the course ended without a formal qualification. When demobbed, I went straight into employment, which was really easy to get in those days when there was a labour shortage. This was unwise – I  should have studied and got a formal qualification.
My father was a Russian immigrant tailor and my mother died when I was two,  and I don’t think I had  the right guidance as a child.  In those days and in the  circles in which I grew up, it was generally taken for granted that one went into a trade and that “pen-pushing in books” was not a real job. I was more fortunate than my older brother who was forced to take up a trade which he really disliked, while I  was allowed to go into the commercial world.
How important is Bet Tikvah in your life ?
Synagogues have always been important in my life. I have always been religious (although not ultra orthodox). As a child I was a choir boy and loved the orthodox service with its rituals and music, but I did not like the lack of decorum and the way people behaved in shul.
I was a founder member of the New Wimbledon & Putney District Synagogue which was Federation,  and which rented a room above a council laundry for its services. I was its treasurer for some time.
A sense of community is very important to both Miriam and myself and when we planned to get married in 1985, we decided to join a progressive synagogue so that we could be together rather than separated. I was treasurer of our  synagogue for about 12 years; am still a member of the Finance committee,  and also a lay reader and choir member.
Our membership of Bet Tikvah has played an important part in our later lives,.
We have a great deal of affection for the shul and I am very honoured indeed at being made a Vice President.