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Barry Speker - Echad Mi Yodea

Adir Hu
Chad Gadya
Echad Mi Yodea

Barry Speker“I’ll sing a few songs but what I can’t tell you is where they came from, other than the fact that my father sang them until he died - and so I’ve known them all my life. My father always led the Seder when he was alive and now I always lead it. We have always had large Sederim and our tradition is not to miss a single word - however late the Seder goes on!

My father was born in Gateshead in 1906 - before Gateshead yeshiva existed. He went to Manchester yeshiva for a short period and then, because of illness in the family, came back to Gateshead yeshiva. He then returned to the ‘real world’ and by the time he married my mother and they settled in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he was mainstream Anglo-Jewry. He worked in the cinema advertising business all his working life but was also choirmaster of Newcastle orthodox schul for many years.

The choir with Cantor Haber from Hungary; Leazes Park Road Synagogue, Newcastle upon Tyne. October 1960

I was in the choir as a boy and after my father died the new rabbi, Yehudah Black, said, “I heard your father used to run the choir”. I said, “Yes he did” and then he said, “Well why don’t you do it?” I’ve never run a choir in my life but arising out of that conversation I’ve organised the schul choir at Newcastle UHC in Gosforth for the last nine years! But only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - those are the only days we do it. Latterly we don’t have any rehearsals at all - because all the people in the choir are busy but we know what we do and we more or less adapt it as we go along - a polished act!

Barry and his late father, choirmaster Bennie Speker; Leazes Park Road Synagogue, Newcastle upon Tyne. October 1960I think my grandfather, my father’s father, came from Germany, although some of these tunes came from my mother’s family who were mainly from Poland. So there’s a bit of a mixture of both families in there. Sadly we never sat down and talked about where the tunes came from and it’s difficult for me to know whether they’re the same as other people’s as I never go to other people’s Sederim.

I know very little about my family because my paternal grandfather died in 1912 when my father was only six. All of my four grandparents died before I was born. My father was the second youngest of a second marriage and was mostly brought up by an older step-brother who I also never met. My paternal grandfather is buried in the cemetery in Newcastle but I cannot visit his gravestone as we’re Cohanim*, although I do have some photographs and know from these that his name was Michael.

My mother was the youngest of four siblings - also from a second marriage. Her father had a first wife who died and he had four young children so he sent off to Poland for another wife. My grandmother Dora’s sister was already married and living in Newcastle and that’s how my grandmother came to England - to marry this ‘rich man called Nachman Shurman’ who turned out not to be very rich! She looked after his four children and then had four of her own. So we have lots of cousins - from the first four children and from the second four.

When we sing Echad Mi Yodea we do the fifth verse like ‘five gold rings’ (from the carol ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’).”

*The Cohanim are the priests, supposedly direct male descendents of Aaron. They are forbidden to come into contact with dead bodies and therefore to go to cemetery grounds.

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