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Martin Gilmour

Martin Gilmour

Martin Gilmour's family connections with Brighton and Hove goes back some 100 years and Martin's account provides valuable details of life in Brighton both before and after the War. Martin recalls the impact the formation of the new State of Israel had on him and the community. He also recalls the youth scene of the time at the Liberal Jewish youth club and in the local espresso bars and at the Rock 'n Roll dance clubs and how he came to be very actively involved in the Zionist movement, and the effect that the Six Day War had on the community in 1967. He recalls the many famous Jewish personalities who came to Brighton in support of the Zionist movement to which Martin was to dedicate much of his working life.

I was born in 1939 and was evacuated with my mother and other members of her family to Wales. In 1940 I moved to Reading with my parents as my father was engaged in essential work for the Ministry of War in the vicinity of Reading. In late 1944 we returned to Hove.

However, my family connection with the city goes back about 100 years when my maternal great aunt married and set up home in Brighton. As a child my mother and her family regularly visited Brighton, especially in the summer holidays from their home in the East End of London to stay with my mother's aunt. In 1917 during the First World War there was a Zeppelin bombing of London's East End and my grandmother was persuaded by her sister to set up temporary home in Brighton until the threat had passed. From that time on my mother's family considered Brighton as their second home.

In 1933 my mother's younger sister was introduced to a young man from Brighton and subsequently married in Middle Street shul. In 1934 my mother and another sister met two brothers and decided to marry and have their Chupahs [Jewish Weddings] also in Middle Street shul and set up home in Brighton. My father who was an Insurance Broker took a house in Clifton Terrace, which is a beautiful Regency area just off the lower Dyke Road, Brighton. The Second World War meant we had to move again.

On returning to Hove in 1944 I recall being taken to Middle Street shul. It must have been a Shabbat and I remember that the shul was full and there was a male choir seated on the bimah and it was this shul that was attended by all my Brighton family, all living within walking distance of the Shul.

My parents set up home in Hove, where we attended both Holland Road and Middle Street shuls, on a very regular basis. My mother did much of her shopping in the many Jewish owned shops, both for food and other essential requirements. There were three kosher butchers, a poulterer, two kosher bakeries and several delicatessen shops. Also there were kosher hotels and boarding houses, on, or close to the seafront, and this is where local observant families could go out to eat. These various establishments, together with the shuls, were the hub of our community and this is where people met and also discovered new Jewish families who came to live in the area, some of whom owned holiday homes in the area.

As a youngster, I made friends at school and also at Holland Road Cheder which I attended three times a week until just after my Bar Mitzvah which took place at Middle Street Shul.

When I was eight or nine, I joined Habonim which was based at Holland Road shul and was led by young observant Zionists and this is where we learned about Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] (prior to Medinat Yisrael). I also had a good Zionist grounding from my own family.

In 1945 I remember listening with the family to radio reports of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen death camp and in 1948 the establishment of the State of Israel.

I, together with my parents attended the first Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations [Israel Day celebrations] in a restaurant in Preston Street, Brighton, where the new Israeli flag was displayed. The flag was a little unusual in as much that it was fringed with gold braid and I remember we all sang Hatikvah [Israeli National Anthem] with gusto.

In 1950 Golda Meir was the guest speaker at a JPA (Joint Palestine Appeal) fund- raising dinner held at the Royal Pavilion. Obviously I was too young to be invited to such an important event but I remember hearing many interesting stories concerning that very important event.

Though there was the well established Macccabi Club in Rochester Gardens, Hove, it was not attended by myself or any of my close friends, as the club members appeared to be much older than us, though possibly only by a couple of years or so. Incidentally, I only recently discovered that my cousin Malcolm Sharp was the Chairman of Maccabi in the 1940's.

In the 1950's, when I was 14 years old, I and my friends joined a Jewish club for teenagers, held in the Liberal shul hall, Lansdowne Road, Hove. The club was led by a local businessman, Mr Geoffrey Cobbs and his friends. We joined, even though we were a little sceptical at first of attending a club at Liberal shul premises, a venue not familiar to us. I remember one of our group checking the club out before we decided to join and to our surprise we came across other Jewish teenagers that we had never met before. In fact, I met my first real girlfriend at that club and we are still friends even today.

The club and its programmes, were beautifully run and intelligently organised. Lots of fun; dances, debates, competitions and outings to various places, including London. Unfortunately, after about two years, or so, most of my crowd had out-grown this club as this was the age of the coffee bars (no pubs for us). It was at certain coffee bars that we met and spent whole evenings talking over one cup of espresso coffee which I believe cost nine old pence. The best known of the coffee bars was the Cordoba which was in Western Road, Hove and was owned by Sam Levy.

Foreign Jewish students, who were studying in Brighton (mainly at Whittingham College) and Jewish teenagers from London, flocked to the coffee bars or to the unofficially named 'Maccabi Beach' situated below Brunswick Square where many new friendships and romances started.

In those days, most Jewish youngsters continued to live in the Brighton area, after completing their formal education, as nationally only 4% of the population were able to go to university, which is the reverse of the situation today. Therefore, there were a lot of Jewish teens and twenties permanently living in the area and we were also joined by young Jewish people who came from London who chose to live in Brighton and Hove.

Going to the cinema is what the general public did and that of course applied to myself and my friends. Incidentally, many of the cinemas were owned by local Jewish residents. Also, there were frequent house parties to be invited to. At the beginning of the Rock 'n Roll era, dance clubs opened, the most famous was the Regent dance hall adjacent to the Clock Tower, Brighton, where Boots Chemist is now housed. It was well frequented by myself and my friends and acquaintances and we carved out our own corner and drank soft drinks (no booze for us).

During the 1950's, 60's and 70's, regular charity dinner dances were held at the Winter Gardens, Metropole Hotel and were very well supported by the community.

In 1961 I made my first visit to Israel and returned to Israel as often as possible. In May 1967, I was in Israel and I returned to the U.K. on the Monday, a week before the commencement of the Six Day War, which was on the 6th June. It was at 8.00 a.m. that I heard on the BBC radio news that the I.D.F. Air Force had made a pre-emptive strike on Egyptian and Syrian Air Force bases, destroying their planes, whilst they were sitting on the ground. The attack was brought about as Egypt and Syria, who were in alliance at that time, threatened to destroy Israel, starting with the closing of the international waterways to Israeli shipping and thereby strangling Israel's economy.

On that Monday morning, I discovered that a meeting had been called at the home of Joan and Percy Stanbow, in Welbeck Avenue, Hove to discuss the local community's response to the news from Israel. About fifty prominent members of the Jewish community attended. I just turned up, was let in and allowed to sit at the back. If I remember correctly, six businessmen pledged substantial sums of money, each with the hope that the local community would donate sufficiently and help redeem their pledges.

A Town meeting was arranged for that Thursday evening and was held at the Metropole Hotel on the seafront. The organisers had no idea how many people would attend at such short notice, but in fact, so many people converged on the hotel that the majority had to stand, as there were not sufficient seats. After some emotive speeches from the platform expressing fears for the survival of the relatively new Jewish State, the audience could not wait to offer whatever they could afford to assist and after the speeches stewards quickly moved around the hall carrying plastic buckets into which cash, cheques and jewellery were dropped. The meeting was closed with a psalm narrated by one of the Rabbanim [rabbis], followed by a very emotionally sung Hatikvah.

The next day, I, together with the committee members, sorted out the monies and cheques for banking and the jewellery was taken to be assessed and sold. The proceeds were sent to the Joint Palestine Appeal (note: the charity's name JPA was only changed in later years to the Joint Israel Appeal - JIA) and the monies were to be used for humanitarian needs in Israel. By the way, the businessmen did not ask for their pledges to be redeemed by the community.

Soon after the meeting at the Metropole, I was asked by the local JPA committee to form a young persons' group and within a very short period I collected a team of enthusiastic young workers and together we organised an Israel Week in Brighton & Hove. The week consisted of various events, but the most important was the taking of an empty shop in Western Road, opposite Norfolk Square, where Israeli goods and food were displayed and available for sale. Through a well wisher, a contact was made to the Manager of Billy Walker, a British world champion boxer, to assist us by officially opening the shop. TV and press were invited and they considered that the event was sufficiently important to send their top reporters, especially as Israel was top news and Billy Walker, a very high profile personality.

Because of the publicity the opening ceremony was attended by a large crowd of local people both Jewish and non-Jewish, which almost stopped the traffic in Western Road. Some came to see Billy Walker but, interestingly, most came in support of the people of Israel.

Within the first few hours of opening the shop, our stocks of Israeli goods and food were sold out and a van was urgently dispatched to London to collect fresh stocks.

From the 1967 period to the present, much of my life revolved around charity related work, especially concerning the welfare of the people of Israel.

A very successful JPA, later JIA (Joint Israel Appeal) committee was re-formed and some very important events took place in Brighton under its aegis. We were very fortunate that a very influential and philanthropic Sudanese Jewish businessman, Mr Leon Tamman, and his family came to live in Hove. Mr Tamman immediately involved himself with the life of the community and became a generous host and sponsor of many events, primarily concerning Israeli charities. Top personalities came to Brighton, such as Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Perez, Harold Wilson, Abba Eban and Manny Shinwell, to speak at very prestigious fund-raising dinners, mainly held at the Metropole Hotel, or receptions at private homes.

Much has changed in the local community since the 1980's. The kosher butchers, bakers, delis and Jewish owned businesses have mostly gone and Middle Street Shul closed a couple of years ago, after 130 years. Young people by and large at 18, leave Brighton & Hove to go to university in other cities in the U.K. and after university they tend to set up homes in London or abroad. Some families have moved to Israel, U.S.A., Australia etc., and therefore the community is now made up primarily of retirees, though there are still some young families living in the area.

Though Jewish nurseries have been part of the Jewish scene for some years, Jewish schools have not fared quite so well. Back in the 1940's / 50's there were Jewish schools and colleges such as Arieh House School in the Upper Drive, and the Hove and Whittingham and Mansfield Colleges. In the 1970's Carmel House School opened in New Church Road, Hove and lasted just a few years, followed by the opening of the Torah Academy school which closed as a school just recently in 2008 but the Torah Academy Nursery still flourishes.

Still, Jewish life in Brighton & Hove continues through the Ralli Hall Jewish Centre, with its cross-communal activities, the Shuls, private and social gatherings, news of which can be found in the Sussex Jewish News and Shul Magazines and websites.

Jewish people will always be attracted to this Sussex seaside resort where they may enjoy a Jewish life by joining one of the Shuls or communal activities on offer.

Martin Gilmour


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