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Alf Glick - Chad Gadya

Chad Gadya

Abraham (Alf) GlickMy parents were from Lithuania and were married there. They came to England in 1901 or 02 and settled in Buxton Street in the East End of London. I was born in Whitechapel in 1917, the youngest of six children, all born in England.

My father, Lazarus Glick, was a presser and also a member of a group of Jewish Anarchists and Bolsheviks, mostly emigrants from Eastern Europe, known as Conventionists. Although they didn’t have British citizenship, they were given an ultimatum either to enlist in the British army or return to Russia. Because of his left-wing political views my father chose the latter, and in 1917 he left to join the Russian Revolution.

I was three months old and my eldest brother was thirteen. My father left my mother living in poverty with six children and didn’t come back until 1923 when I was six years old. He was a total stranger to me and my brothers and sisters never forgave him. (I have his Russian passport with a photo of him in uniform which was issued by a Jewish minor official who rose to become head of the KGB but was denounced and executed during Stalin’s purges in the 1930s.)

Lazarus Glick with daughter Esther at her wedding c1952I grew up in the Jewish part of London’s East End and was accepted at a school near our home as my mother was a single parent. At the age of six or seven I moved out of the infant section to join the older boys. I was bilingual in English and Yiddish but there was no religious education at school as most of the boys attended cheder privately. When I was ten or eleven I left to go to a school in Hackney where I finished my education at the age of fourteen when my father insisted I leave to learn a trade.

My grandfather was shammas of a small schul. He was very old but had all his faculties and taught about a dozen boys, including my brothers and myself, in his bedroom furnished with a long table and uncomfortable forms. We had to attend cheder every day after school and on Sunday mornings. Occasionally he would fall asleep but if anyone made a mistake he would wake up and use a long strap to keep us in check. The translation of the Chumash that we used was in Yiddish and later when I attended Talmus Torah I found it very confusing as the translation was in English.

1923 photo of Lazarus Glick's Russian passport
My father used to do Seder night but it was all in Hebrew or Yiddish. We had no English translation. My favourite part was Ma Nishtana, the four questions, which I recited in Yiddish. Pesach was also a good time to make pocket money. All the Jewish households stocked up with Spanish nuts and if one won in any of the traditional games, one could sell or barter them. The streets were crowded with kids. On Erev Pesach the very orthodox Jews used to come out with a small stick to which a piece of bread was tied. The stick was placed in a pail to be burned while prayers were recited. There was a certain air about the streets during all Yomtovs and local shops were closed. It was always clear that it was a Jewish holiday.

For four years during the 1920s I was a choir boy at my local schul in Richmond Road, Hackney earning a shilling a week for Shabbat and weddings. My Bar Mitzvah tutor was the sub-editor of the Yiddish newspaper the Jewish Times which was distributed all over England and he gave me a glowing report in his paper. My father kept it for years but eventually it disintegrated. The headmaster of the cheder talked to my father about me going to Yeshiva but I preferred to spend my Saturday afternoons at football, alternating between Spurs and Orient.

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