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Whittingehame College and Jacob Halevy

Leslie Brown

In this fascinating account, Leslie Brown recalls his school days at a unique Jewish boarding school in Brighton, Whittingehame College, which was headed by the even more unique headmaster, Jacob Halevy, an ardent Zionist and promoter of sometimes eccentric curriculums at a school with a distinctive ethos.

The headmaster and founder of the school was Jacob Halevy. The School was a Jewish Zionist Boarding School. The "official" history of the school "Jake's Legacy" is available in full on the school's extensive website and is written by an old boy, Eric Shanes, who I understand is an authority on the British painter Turner.

Jacob Halevy was President of the British(?) Zionist federation and when the State of Israel was established in May 1948, he assembled all the boys in the main school hall, and at the moment of the establishment of the state of Israel we all sang the Hatikvah. As I was nine it was a memorable moment. I assume that we were the only school in the UK, and perhaps the British Commonwealth, to do so.

The British/overseas mix of pupils changed while I was at the school and by the time I reached the sixth form I was the only person born in Britain in the class (the only British native Passport holder.) The rest of the pupils came from all over the world - mainly Jews from Arab countries, whose parents had been kicked out, or, were about to be kicked out from their ancient homelands. A number of these boys had passports from two countries for bolt-hole reasons. A number had fathers who were honorary consuls in their own (Arab) countries for other countries. I assume so enabling them to have two nationalities. Others had just bought (mainly South American second passports).
While I was there the Headmaster thought it was a good idea for us to be offered ballroom dancing lessons and to learn to play bridge - so these subjects were laid on.

The majority first language in the school was Arabic, but many Arab boys spoke French as a second language, and others from Israel of course spoke Hebrew. To get all the boys to speak English the speaking of all foreign languages was banned at one stage and if boys were caught speaking a foreign language (outside a language class of course) they were fined!!!

After the World War II, a Cadet Corps was established and a unit from the Corps used to go to London each year for the AJEX memorial parade and service which is held one week after the National memorial Service attended by the Queen. The AJEX columns used to march onto Horse Guards parade ground from Whitehall and the boys from the unit used to be spread out across the parade ground acting as markers for the marching columns. In the years I was in the unit, we used to be called to order outside Victoria Station (having arrived in London by train from Brighton)and march, with a police escort, to the parade ground. I think that all the boys in the school from around 13, until they reached the 6th Form, were compulsory members of the corps. When you realise that most of these boys came from overseas you can only imagine what it was like.

I have vivid memories of watching Jacob Halevy chasing an Egyptian boy, Pontremolli (who for some reason he always picked on) down the school logia alongside the dining hall. I think Pontremolli is now dead, but his family who owned the largest Departmental Store in Cairo, were thrown out of Egypt by Nasser.

The Headmaster acted as guardian to many of the foreign boys he recruited to the school from overseas (mainly Arab) countries and the boys never went home, but stayed in the school all year round.

As I understand it Jacob Halevy voluntarily joined the British Jewish Palestine Battalion (in Israel) at the end of the First World War.
At one point a pair of beautiful Middle East silver covered Torahs appeared. I found a photo of them on the school web site and have put it on my face-book site. When the school closed the Torah scrolls vanished. It would be interesting to know what happened to them. If I remember to do so I will attach the photo.

Halevy had the school designed and built in Surrenden Road. In its day a very modern and striking design.

A number of teachers (both Jewish and non Jewish) had interesting backgrounds. One, Mr Landau was the grandson of Paul Ehrlich. A German Jew who won a Nobel Prize for curing syphilis. This of course left a lasting impression on the boys. Mr Landau was among other things a keen skier. And when there was a new fall of snow in the Winter, he used to get his skis out and take the bus up Surrenden Road as far as it would go ,and ski down the central grass verge in the Road as far as he could go, and then catch the next bus up again.
I am sure you will find the school's website full of interesting material. In particular there is a wonderful write-up of the life of Benji Feuchtwanger (locate this under Correspondance ...then...Letters to the Editor) who I met at a school reunion in Eilat. One of his grandfathers was an eminent Berlin Gynaecologist and a consultant to the German Royal Family. Another old boy is Danny Gillerman, who until recently was Israel's Ambassador at the UN and in June 2005 served a term as Vice President of the UN General Assembly. Another pupil was Theodore Herzl's only grandson. As I have already mentioned the Founder of SanDisk (Eli Harari), is an old boy as well as Joseph Safra, who is one of the wealthiest men in the world and is now based in Brazil. Joseph Safra was born into a banking family which was originally located in Aleppo.

Leslie Brown

(8 January 2010)

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