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Murray Woolf - Chad Manyada (Echad Mi Yodea in Aramaic)

Chad Manyada (Echad Mi Yodea in Aramaic)

Ki Lo Na’eh Ki Lo Ya’eh

Murray Woolf“These songs mostly come from my grandfather, of blessed memory, who was born in 1848. He brought them from Poland some time in the middle 1870s.

My grandfather was known throughout the East End of London as the Plotsker mohel. When he died two hundred people followed from Stoke Newington to Edmonton Cemetery, where he and my grandmother are buried in a tomb - not one with an upright stone but in a proper tomb with a square base and a shaped top!

He was really a well-known man. When he went to do a bris in The London Hospital, the surgeon and the sister and all the nurses would follow him. His name was Israel Woolf but originally the family name was Lazarovich. He lived in Sydney Street and was supposedly one of the most important people living there. Family history has it that Winston Churchill came to visit when he was Home Secretary. He then moved to Stoke Newington and most of the family then settled there. He brought tradition with him and he passed it on to other members of the family.

Murray Woolf's paternal grandparents - front row, and father Isaac Meyer Woolf - front row far right

My father was born in 1893 and was the youngest in the family. There were eight of them – five girls and three boys. He and two slightly older sisters were born in London; all the others came from the Heim. Of his two elder brothers, one went to the yeshiva in Plotsk and the other came here to work to provide the money for his brother to stay in the yeshiva.

Murray Woolf's grandparentsMy father joined his eldest brother, who was a furrier, as an apprentice and then he became a journeyman. He was called up during the First World War but was rejected because he had a perforated eardrum. He came home and started a little business making sheepskin overcoats for the officers in the trenches. He was already going out with my mother who was a seamstress and she used to come after work in the evenings to help him get the orders out. Then disaster struck and all his stock and machines were stolen.

He had got married in 1915 and my sister was born in 1917 and he had to find a way of making a living. He was already learning how to be a mohel and one of his older sisters’ husband was the shammas of the Notting Hill Synagogue. Through him my father was offered a similar position in the West Ham synagogue. He took the opportunity and he moved to Forest Gate but just before, in December 1925, his wife gave birth to me! He qualified as a mohel in 1928 and took over ‘the business’ when his father died. He carried on working as a mohel until a few days before he died.

Murray Woolf's parents just before their wedding

In the 1960s he became minister and chazzan of Manor Park United Synagogue and I grew up next door to the schul where I was taken at a very early age. I heard the most wonderful chazzanim that we had in those days and as soon as I was old enough I became a chorister. Unusually for that time we had a mixed choir and my sister was the lead soprano. I won a scholarship to the local secondary school, which was really a grammar school, and when I was old enough I became a Hebrew teacher. First I was an assistant to the headmaster’s daughter who taught the youngest class and by the time I was 14 I was teaching the other boys their Bar Mitzvah.

When it came to Pesach we had the first Seder at home with some of my mother’s family who had come originally from a town just south of Kovno which was half in Latvia, half in Lithuania. My maternal grandfather was a cabin trunk maker and he had a stall in ‘the Lane’ selling big trunks that the sailors used to buy. The last of my mother’s sisters still had that stall up till the 1980s.

We had the second Seder round the corner at my aunt and uncle who had three daughters and also a Jewish fellow who had come from Lithuania and had known part of the family there. But, as I said, all these songs come from my grandfather, my father and from me – there are my variations as well as the others!

During the Second World War we were evacuated to Cornwall and we had Pesach there with matzas and wine sent from London. We went on our bicycles from Helston to Portleven to get fish and we managed to find apples, onions and nuts. A teacher came from London and we had a Seder - the whole thing was absolutely terrific. I spoke about it at my second Bar Mitzvah.

I was dentist and then became an orthodontist. I retired in 1987 although I helped out a colleague for a couple of years after that. From to 1989 to 1994 I went to Israel as a volunteer to work for the Youth Aliyah (child rescue charity) clinics. I’ve also conducted services in many different places and have been into non-Jewish schools to talk to the children about Judaism.”

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