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Anthony Ordman - Echad Mi Yodea

Adir Hu
Chad Gadya
Echad Mi Yodea
Ki Lo Na’eh
Ki Lo Ya’eh

Anthony Ordman“My beloved father, the late Nahum Ordman z“l, led our family Seders, handing his own family’s traditions, including these Seder songs, on to my generation. Here is something of his story.

Nahum’s father, my grandfather was Menachem (Mendel) Ben Zion Ordman z”l. Mendel was born in Lithuania in 1889, the only boy and, I think, the youngest in a family of seven sisters. The family was relatively well-off and Mendel had studied in the Yeshiva in Telz, which had a worldwide reputation as an intellectual and liberal institution.

We think that the name Ordman came from the Yiddish der Ortmann; (der Ort meaning place, location or settlement in German) and that Mendel’s father, Yehuda Leb, had been the local boss of a timber-cutting and exporting business. Mendel’s mother was Hannah, and her family name had been Marks.

Anthony's grandfather Rev Mendel OrdmanUnfortunately, the Ordman family’s good fortune disappeared on the death of Yehuda Leb, and in about 1903, at a time of growing anti-Semitism and pogroms and with twenty-five years’ conscription to the Russian army in prospect, my grandfather went to Dublin to stay with his maternal aunt, Fanny Rosenberg.

Mendel’s family was eventually reunited in Ireland, but they were impoverished strangers in a foreign land. They threw themselves into any reasonable activity that could make some money; even buying up old pillows and eider-downs to recondition and sell the feathers for re-use. In time, some of the sisters and their eventual husbands came to own ‘Ordman’s Grocery’, later ‘Ordman’s Delicatessen’ in Clanbrassel Street, where they pickled cucumbers in large barrels while Mendel used to shect the chickens in the yard behind the shop. With time and hard work they became relatively prosperous again.

Mendel married my grandmother, Malkah (Molly) Glickman z”l, in Dublin. Her family had come to Ireland at least a generation before the Ordmans, so she spoke English with a broad Irish accent well-spattered with Yiddish, whereas my grandfather never lost his Russian/Yiddish accent. Molly was a keen musician, her brother, Larry Glickman was a celebrated chazzan and her sister Gerty became a professional opera singer and married a Swedish Jewish violinist.

My father Nahum, was born in Dublin in 1919. His parents named him Noël, only later realising the meaning of that name! They quickly changed his name to Nahum, but too late for the completion of his birth certificate. Nahum was a baby at the beginning of the Irish War of Independence (1919-22), and his cot had had to be put under the window sill of an upstairs room so that any stray bullet coming through the window would go safely over his head.

The family left Dublin in about 1921 for England, where my grandfather, now the Reverend Menachum Ordman, was minister among the Jewish communities of Burnley, Coventry and then Stockport. In 1927, my father now seven, the family settled in Edinburgh where Mendel became chazzan, shochet, teacher and mohel. He had a reputation for his learning of Torah and was a fine baritone. After the Second World War, Mendel decided to give up his ministry to become a farmer, taking over tenancy of a farm in Pennycuick, just outside Edinburgh.

Mendel keenly observed the tradition that any Jew who was away from home at Pesach should be invited to join one’s own family’s Seder. So there were always visitors from different parts of the Jewish world at the Ordman Seder table, and Mendel would encourage the visitors to share their own Seder tunes.

Mendel was determined that his five children should receive a good education despite the family’s relative lack of wealth, and they grew up as a vibrant and closely-knit family in an environment that was at the same time intensely Jewish and secular. My father attended George Herriot's School with his brothers, where they all did well. Each school day, he would run home from school at midday for a kosher lunch, then dash back in time for afternoon school. From Monday to Thursday there would be another dash to cheder immediately after school. Then home for schoolwork done on the kitchen table with family chaos all around. Away at camp in the school’s army cadet force, a separate mess tent would be made available for the kilted Colour Sergeant Ordman to take his kosher meals (sent in the post by his mother).

My father went on to Edinburgh University where he studied Civil Engineering, graduating as World War II broke out. He came to London as a civil engineer, and at just twenty years old he joined the Admiralty as an Assistant Engineer. He designed air strips and submarine pens in the Scottish isles.

By the age of just twenty-one, as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, he was in charge of building airfields in Ceylon. He progressed to the intelligence service, going to India and Nepal to track servicemen who had gone missing, and then worked at a base which intercepted communication about the enemy’s ship movements and local sourcing of construction materials.

Anthony's father Lieutenant Nahum (Noel) Ordman

Back in London after the war, my father met my mother, the beautiful young Marie Goldblatt. It was love at first sight for Nahum, although Marie’s parents, Charles and Bertha, did not at first approve of this impoverished, slightly dishevelled young Scot as their daughter’s suitor. My sister, Hilary and I are however fortunate that they subsequently changed their views!

After the war, my father went from the Admiralty to work for the Port of London Authority. There known as Noël Ordman, he rose to be Assistant Director General, overseeing the modernisation of cargo-handling from manual handling by dockers to modern containerisation and mechanical handling. He designed the modern containerisation sea port of Tilbury.

Nahum had been deeply shaken by news of the Holocaust emerging from post-war Europe, and he began to feel uncomfortable with some aspects of Orthodox practice. He and Marie, whose family were less observant than his own, decided to join the Reform movement of Judaism in the later 1950s. There, Nahum felt more comfortable in terms of observing his Jewish traditions and his deeply-felt wish to preserve them, and to hand them on.

Seder night, London c1950. Far left - Dr Sam Hayman, middle - Nahum Ordman, right - Marie Ordman

My father would have been delighted to know that his family’s own Seder tunes were now being preserved in this archive.”

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