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Clive & Michael Lawton - Pitchu Li

Hodu Ladonai
Ki Lo Na’eh Ki Lo Ya’eh
Pitchu Li
Quien Supieze
(Echad Mi Yodea in Ladino)

Clive and Michael Lawton

“These tunes all come from our mother’s family. She was an Attias, Regina Attias of Gibraltar. They were a huge family and were mostly in import and export and shop keeping. Pretty well the whole Gibraltar Jewish community at that time could be described as merchants. Our grandfather’s family came to Gibraltar in the nineteenth century, but we don’t where from - although we have family stories from Portugal, Morocco, Corfu, Alexandria, Livorno and Manchester, where our great-great-grandfather started a Sephardi synagogue because he disapproved of the fact that the existing Sephardi synagogue was going to start charging membership dues. It still exists, but not at its original site.

Regina Attias and Capt. Clifford Lawton wedding, Gibraltar 1947A segment of that family - my grandmother’s family - went to Gibraltar and there she met my grandfather who was not considered to be quite the right class for her. In fact they had a very romantic story of learning sign language and courting from the balcony - pure Romeo and Juliet! His family had been in Gibraltar for a long time and he never spoke very good English.

The Gibraltarians were all evacuated to Britain during the war and our father, who was English Ashkenazi, served in the British army in Gibraltar. After the war the Gibraltarians went back to Gibraltar and that’s when he met our mother and they got married - in 1946. He came out of the army and then they came straight to a very drab, 1940s, rationed Britain. She left her family behind - she had eight siblings - and it must have been a big shock after sunny Gibraltar.

Our father didn’t have much of a tradition of home ceremonies or tunes and so most of the ones we used at home came from our mother’s family. But he learned all the Sephardi tunes and sang them with an extremely Ashkenazi accent!

Michael and Clive's grandfather, Levy AttiazIn 1965, when our grandfather was 85, our parents asked him while he was on holiday with us in the summer, to do the Seder service so that we would know the right tunes - although in fact we found out that we knew the right tunes already! But there was a lot of chanting in-between the tunes which we never took on. In Gibraltar they did the whole thing in Hebrew on the first night and on the second night they did the whole thing in Spanish to the same chants. And our mother did that herself for many years - we always went round the table reading a paragraph at a time, and when it was her turn, she would chant the English to the tunes she remembered her father using in Hebrew and Spanish. We still sing Echad Mi Yodea and Chad Gadya in Spanish. There are the odd Hebrew words in it but it’s not Ladino.

Our grandparents stayed in Gibraltar. We never went there for Seder and they never came here. But while traditions changed in Gibraltar we preserved the old tunes like fossils - not only Seder tunes but Spanish tunes for the whole year. We sing a very interesting song after lunch on the first day of Pesach which we have in a copy which was written out by our grandfather in 1946. It has four Hebrew verses followed by their Spanish translations. It’s to do with the ultimate salvation and the coming of the Messiah.

Michael Lawton (left) and family at his Bar Mitzvah 1962

For the last ten years we’ve spent every Seder together. Our mother died when she was 72 in 1992. In the last couple of years of their lives Mum and Dad went to Gibraltar for Pesach. Dad was very well received by the Attias family and became an ‘elder of the family’ and so for two or three years he continued to drive to Gibraltar and spend Pesach there. As my [Clive's] daughters were getting older, he started to stay here, and Michael started to join us. Dad died last year. This year, Michael led the first Seder and I led the second - as good a reason as any for having two!”

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