Reflections - Jewish Musical Journeys logo
Creating the Anthology
About Us
Contact Us

Rudi Leavor - Ki Lo Na’eh Ki Lo Ya’eh

Chad Gadya (Lammchen Klein)
Ki Lo Na’eh
Ki Lo Ya’eh

Rudi Leavor“My Ki Lo Naeh was my first attempt at composition singing in canon, my first realisation, at the age of ten or eleven, that something original could be done with music. The tune was one I sang with my family and then I put it into canon.

I was born in Berlin. My father was a dentist (as was I). He came from Poland, from a fairly orthodox family. His father, my grandfather, was president of his community in the shtetl in Poland and the mohel; he was a very devout man. He died very young, at the age of 53, from kidney trouble.

My father was fairly orthodox in a liberal sort of sense and the synagogue in Berlin that we joined was orthodox, but in the 20th century. We kept a kosher household and only ate matzah at Pesach time but we would travel on Shabbat and festivals. I was a frequent synagogue goer; I didn’t have school on Saturday morning (neither primary school nor the Jewish school that I attended later) and became familiar with the service and the melodies that were being sung.

My mother came from an equally orthodox family, from Frankfurt, a town where the Jews thought they were the pinnacle of frumkeit. Her father, my other grandfather, was very orthodox. When he emigrated from Frankfurt to Palestine before the war he stopped over in our flat in Berlin for a couple of days. It happened to be my mother’s birthday on the Saturday and I had learned a piano piece especially for her as a surprise. After lunch I went to the piano and played for my mother. My grandfather was fuming that I’d played the piano on Shabbat. There was a friendly argument but when he could see that neither side could win he stormed out of the room with the words in German, “I keep to the Sabbath laws; you can do what you want”. It made quite an impression on me.

My father played the piano tolerably well; he would tackle any of the Beethoven or Schubert sonatas or Chopin and play them fairly accurately. I learned a lot of piano music from turning the pages for him. I had piano lessons from a very early age but I didn’t practise enough. When my parents saw that I wasn’t making much progress they thought I might do better on the violin but I was even worse!

My family immigrated to England in 1937. I was eleven and my sister Winnie was four years younger. My father got permission from the dental board to practice as a dentist in this country and the man who told him the good news said he could practice anywhere except London or Manchester because there were already too many refugee dentists there. He put a metaphorical pin in a map and we landed in Bradford!

Not all my family escaped [from the Holocaust]. My father’s mother, who had been widowed, lived with three sisters. My father made an application to the Home Office for his mother and then he would apply for her sisters, but she wrote back to say that she wouldn’t come unless they came as well. He applied for two maiden aunts who were then in their fifties but the only way he could get them across was as domestic servants. But they said that they wouldn’t come as domestic servants - and they perished. Another cousin aged 28 or 29 was transported to Auschwitz in about 1944 together with her husband, father and four year old son, where they were murdered.

At school in Bradford the music teacher gave me a test to see if I could sing, but I played Schubert’s Marche Militaire which I’d played with my father. That was that until Dr Martin Kuttner formed a choir in the Bradford synagogue. He gave me one or two solos but I felt that I wasn’t doing things quite right. Fortunately one of our members was Rita Morris, who in her heyday was quite a well-known soloist on radio and television. She gave me lessons and after two or three I realised what I was doing wrong and was able to put it right.

She put me on the right road and eventually I joined the Leeds Philharmonic Choir where I’ve been a member for thirty seven years! At my re-audition the choir master said that I could sing anything that I was comfortable with. I chose Ahavat Olam from the Erev Shabbat service. When I’d finished he said, “Very good, what is it, is it Hungarian?”

When we arrived in England we still kept a kosher household and joined the orthodox synagogue in Bradford, as most people did. The Reform Synagogue had its heyday a few decades earlier when there was a large influx of German Jews for the wool trade, but we didn’t give it a second thought - we joined the orthodox synagogue as we’d been used to in Berlin.

When we arrived in England we still kept a kosher household and joined the Orthodox synagogue in Bradford, as most people did. The Reform synagogue had its heyday a few decades earlier when there was a large influx of German Jews for the wool trade, but we didn’t give it a second thought - we joined the Orthodox synagogue as we’d been used to in Berlin.

But my parents got very friendly with one or two of the executives of the Reform synagogue who were bewailing the fact that there were too few members. So my parents thought they would join the Reform but I wasn’t keen at all. They almost echoed my grandfather’s words - you can do what you like - although they said you can’t split the family. The two synagogues at that time were on either side of the main road and we would walk the two miles from home on festivals and Shabbat. I knew that at one point I would have to make a decision - whether to turn left or right. I decided to go with my parents and join the Reform synagogue. It was a good move I think. I’m the President now - because nobody else wants to do it! But we only have 39 members now, all in their sixties and seventies and older, and it’s very hard to keep going.

Rudi's parents Hans and Luise Librowicz and his wife Marianne after my installation as President of the B'nai B'rith Men's Lodge in Bradford 1969. Marianne was installed as President of the Women's Lodge at the same time.

My mother became vice-president of the Northern Synagogues of Great Britain (which has now been disbanded) and chairman of the music committee. She made a complete index of all the songs that were sung in Reform Synagogues.

My musical composing knowledge is all self-taught. I’d wanted to compose for years and one day took some manuscript paper on holiday with me to Italy and on the beach started writing my first piece of music for a military band because both my boys were in the military band at school. I called the piece ‘Milano Marittima’ because that was where it was written!

I’m now 82½ and can still sing quite well and can still pick out a few tunes on the piano. I’ve given my violin to my sister’s grandchildren.”

Return to top

Return to Ki Lo Na’eh mainpage