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Shirley Bilgora - Odecha

Chada Mandei Yada (Echad Mi Yodea in Aramaic)

Shirley Bilgora“These melodies are my late father’s. He died 41 years ago. His name was Harry Hartstein and he came to this country from Russia in 1920 at the age of ten, not speaking a word of English. He came from a little village called Nova Fastov in the Ukraine; the nearest town was Kiev. The family left one night after they were warned there was going to be a pogrom. They went to the next village, hid out under the eaves and made their way to Rumania. Before they got to Rumania they had to go through the woods at night and my father and my late aunt got separated. It was a miracle that they found the rest of the family.

They had to pretend all the children were two years younger when they came to this country because my eldest uncle would have been eligible for military service. So everybody was two years younger and for the whole of my life my father would never admit to those two years - I think he was afraid that he would be sent back!

Shirley Bilgora's father (top left) and his brothers with her grandfather. 1960sYou would never have known that my father wasn’t born in England - his English was completely unaccented; whereas my late aunt and uncles had a slight accent.

It was a six-day train journey to the UK from Rumania and they had to take non-perishable food with them. They took tinned sardines and halva! For the rest of his life my father could not stand the smell of sardines but he absolutely adored halva.

They were in Rumania for six months and then came to the UK because they had family here - my late grandfather, who was one of fifteen children, had a brother who had come here in the 1880s and established a paper bag business. My grandfather worked in the business.

My father volunteered for the army in 1941/42 and was in the infantry but he was discharged because he had flat feet and couldn’t march. He spoke Russian, although I never heard him speak it, and went to work for a wholesale hosiery company owned by Georgians. He was the intermediary between them and the customers.

Shirley Bilgora's father, Harry Hatstein. 1950sNobody has ever, ever heard this Ancient Aramaic version of Echad Mi Yodea - Chada Mandei Yada. My cousin in Israel and I both sing it (our parents were brother and sister) although I only have the words up to “Who knows five?” While the family were still in Russia they invited a passing stranger to their Seder and he taught them this tune. We always thought the words were Aramaic but my cousin who is an academic researched it and discovered that it is actually Ancient Aramaic which has been corrupted over the years. We both sing the same melody and the same words but she sings it in an upbeat way, which is how her mother sang it, and mine is more melancholy, which is how my father sang it.

There are two other parts of the Seder service that are my father’s family melodies - one is at the end of Hallel and the other is Hasal Siddur Pesach.

My father had three siblings and my mother was one of nine - seven girls and two boys although one of her sisters died at the age of 15 in 1935. My mother was born here but my maternal grandparents came from Poland - my grandmother came when she was 17. I am an only child but I have 16 cousins on my mother’s side and two on my father’s side.

Shirley Bilgora's mother (far right) and her sisters

What they went through leaving Russia affected them - my father and his siblings all suffered from depression. But my grandfather was an amazing man - he wrote his autobiography at the age of 80; he called it ‘A Man of Two Worlds’. He wanted to die in Israel and emigrated to live with his daughter and son-in-law when he was 94! His son-in-law was Moshe Rosette, the first Secretary of the Knesset. Until he went to Israel he still went to work every day - he worked in his brother’s paper bag business. He was friends with old Mr Bloom and had his own table reserved in Blooms restaurant in the East End from 12.30 to 1.30 every day and no-one was allowed to use this table even when customers were queuing for lunch!! He always ate giblet pie. He died in his sleep the day before his 97th birthday.”

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