RESUME OF THE LIFE OF LAWRENCE RIGAL
Born at home at 56 Clifton Gardens, NW11 on October 14th, 1928 to Goldwin (Goldie) and Ethel Rigal. As far as I know, I was not given a Hebrew name or if I was, I was never told of it. Much later when I went to Ulpan in Israel, I chose Li'or ben Gershon. Years later, I found that I should have been Lazar ben Gershon as Lazar was the name of previous Lawrences in the family, (however I never signed myself as Lazar in case the change might have invalidated legal documents I had previously signed as Li'or). I was the second of three brothers, George was the eldest and Cedric the youngest. I was circumcised by Dr Snowman who circumcised members of the royal family (no connection), while my father was brought into the world in Kimberly by the notorious Dr Jameson (of the Jameson Raid)
I attended Leas House School (Primary) 1934 – 1942. Where I was awarded various prizes and eventually won a scholarship to Highgate School. I was evacuated to Dawlish in Devon with the school for 3 weeks during the Munich Crisis in 1938 and then from September 1939 – to July 1942. In 1940 I returned to London for the Summer holidays, only to spend much of the time in the air raid shelter that my father had had constructed in the back garden as the Battle of Britain began in mid August. There I kept a careful account of the number of German aircraft which were reported as being destroyed, which after the war I discovered were grossly inflated figures.
1n 1942, I went to Highgate School which was then evacuated to Westward Ho! in North Devon. The school had taken over several hotels in this holiday resort. In 1943 the school returned to London as the Blitz had ended; but in 1944 when I was sitting School Certificate, the V 1 Doodlebugs started arriving. One dropped on the school playing fields and spoiling the cricket pitch and blowing out a lot of windows. Because of this threat, we wrote the exam papers in the school basement, which was stiflingly hot. Along with a number of others I got full marks in the practical Chemistry exam as we had to leave the laboratory 3 times when the air raid sirens went and you could not fail to see the experiments that the others were doing. By now my parents had moved to Rickmansworth to escape the Blitz and I was a weekly border, which meant that I would go home on Saturday afternoons.
My parents were founder members of Alyth I attended a Chanukah party of the congregation which was held in a Church Hall in Bridge Lane, before they erected their first building. I attended Cheder there from the age of about 5 or 6 until WW2 broke out. My father was Group Scoutmaster there and I was a member of the Wolf Cubs. I attended Shabbat morning services with my parents there. I vaguely remember Rabbi Starrels, but I do remember Maurice Perlzweig who gave some memorable sermons. During the war the senior Jewish boys at Leas House tried to conduct services from Singers Prayerbook while at Highgate there was a well organised Jewish Circle which held some interesting discussions. Because of the war I had no Barmitzvah, but was given a lot of presents on my 13th birthday. After moving to Rickmansworth, the only services I attended were High Holy Days. These were conducted by Vivian Simmons whose goatee beard always reminded me of Buffalo Bill Cody as depicted in boys magazines and also by Van der Zyl.
In 1946, I was conscripted into the RAF and served as a ground wireless mechanic. I received sufficient training to service the intercom and the radio sets on aircraft. Which meant that if the radio was not working I would remove the set and replace it with another and the real mechanics would repair the duff one in the base workshops. I served for 2 and a quarter years and reached the rank of leading aircraftsman. I was never posted abroad. And I never experienced antisemetism in the forces only a little envy when there was a church parade and the order came "Roman Catholics and Jews fall out!"
The only notable events in my service career was a 3-week period when I was sent to Uxbridge as part of a special unit where we drilled to prepare us to line the route when King George VI returned from a visit to South Africa, and I duly stood near St Pauls Cathedral and presented arms as the royal coach went past. Later, there was another parade on camp on the occasion of the birth of Prince Charles, when Jews and Catholics did not fall out and we all had to give 3 cheers for the royal heir.
At the time, I regarded my years in the RAF as a waste of time, and it was only later that I found that it had been an invaluable training for my work in the Rabbinate. I had up to then attended a private prep school and a public school which was very class-conscious. In the RAF, I learnt of the real world and it shaped my political attitude. Yet I do not remember reading newspapers, so not even of the foundation of the state of Israel made no impression on me. While at Highgate I had experienced a little anti-Semitism particularly when the Irgun killed 3 British sergeants as a reprisal for the British hanging Irgun terrorists. And there I had discussions about Zionism; but in the RAF I remember nothing like this..
Just before the war my mother had sponsored a German Jewish shoemaker called Goldschmidt. He had built up a small business in making handmade ladies shoes. My mother had a financial interest in the business and thought that it would be a good opportunity for me. So after demob, I went on a two year course in shoemaking at Cordwainers Technical College in Mare Street, Hackney. After completing the course, I became entitled to put ABSI after my name meaning Associate of the Boot & Shoe Industry. However, by now a recession had taken place in the Shoe trade and Goldschmidts had closed. So I got a job in a Shoe factory in Princelet Street. This only lasted a few months again because of the state of the industry. So I went into shoe retail first with Dolcis and then with a high class childrens outfitter in the West End called Daniel Neals where I eventually managed a department. While there I went back to Cordwainers College and lectured on shoe fitting at evening classes there.
After demob I became active in the North West London Aid Society for the Home for Aged Jews which raised money by running charity dances etc. In this I followed on from my mother and Uncle (Percy Levy). My brother George and myself formed a junior branch called the Norwesters which took school children round museums and other places of historical interest in the school holidays. One of these youngsters Martin Gilbert eventually became a renowned historian.
About this time, my parents joined the newly formed Wembley Liberal Community, where my uncle and aunt, Phil & Girtie Rigal, were founder members. The congregation eventually purchased the Preston Road Lawn Tennis Club. One of its first activities after formation was to establish a study and discussion group under the leadership of Dr Golde. Following Rev. Philip Cohen's recommendation we studied Montefiore's Outlines of Liberal Judaism. Both George and myself attended these evenings which took place in members' homes. And so my Jewish studies recommenced after the war when I was in my early 20s. Later I attended adult study sessions at the LJS led by Dr Abram Spiro and John Rayner. And still later I enrolled in the correspondence course run by Dr Spiro which was a considerable influence on my decision to apply for training in the ministry.
All of this opened my ideas to the fact that religion and science were not in opposition to each other and that the Liberal form of Judaism accepted both Higher Criticism of the Biblical text and Darwin's theory of evolution. In fact, Higher Criticism made the Biblical text more meaningful and acceptable to me. It helped to turn me into a more committed Jew.
Max Salter, the chairman of the Wembley congregation, asked my brother George and myself together with his daughter Joan to form a Youth club. As there were only a few 16+ youngsters connected with the congregation we joined up with those of the Kingsbury United Synagogue to form the Two Triangles Club which existed for a couple of years meeting at the Kingsbury United Synagogue. However the meetings were often disrupted when some of the boys were hauled off to form a minyan for Ma'ariv. Eventually, the Liberals left and formed their own club which met at the club house of the newly acquired Tennis Club. This was run on Liberal lines and and the junior club had its own club prayer which was the same as that of Oxford & St Georges.
One day when I was working in the Willesden branch of Dolcis, Joel Pinto who I had known for some time chanced to come into the shop and in conversation suggested that the club should join the Federation of Liberal & Progressive Jewish Youth Groups. As chairman of the club I started attending Federation meetings and their annual conferences. I eventually became the chairman of FLIPJYG and Rosita Rosenberg was the publicity officer. As chairman, I was youth representative on the council of the ULPS which meant that I was on speaking terms with all the lay and Rabbinic leaders of the movement. It was there that I first met Sir Basil Henriques.
In Wembley, the religion classes grew and flourished and it soon became clear that there were a number of youngsters under the then club age of 16 who were in need of social activity I was therefore asked to form a Junior club for ages 13-15. This also met in the little wooden hut of the club house. This was very different from the Bingo and Socials of the Two Triangles Club and even from the more varied activities of the senior club. This had a certain amount of religious educational content mixed with social and sporting activities.
This was one of the first "junior clubs" in the Liberal Movement. Previous to this youth clubs were aged 16-35, and after the war, provided a means for young Jewish adults with a means to find a Jewish marriage partner. FLIPJYG widened the contact range by arranging inter-club activities.
The other Synagogues with Junior Clubs were the LJS, South London and Belsize Park.
These four clubs also got together to run a few joint activities. Some of these youth activities involved participating with the clubs of the Reform Movement. The Senior Clubs were part of WUPJYS, the youth section of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. I attended several of these conferences.
By this time I began to feel that as much of my youth work was religious and took place in my spare time, perhaps I could do this work full time and together with the influence of Abram Spiro and John Rayner, I began to think of the possibility of training for the Rabbinate. While on the ULPS council I sat in on discussions about the Liberals joining in with the Leo Baeck College, and I thought that I would be attending there.
However, the negotiations between the Liberal & Reform movements over the College fell through before I had time to enrol. And the three Liberal students, Harry Jacobi, Nicholas Ginsbury and myself were sent to University College to do a degree in Hebrew Literature together with added Rabbinic tuition. The syllabus included texts from the Targum Yonathan, Mishnah, Mechilta and Midrash Rabbah as well as Biblical books. The requirements for entry into University College included the need for at least an en equivalent of an O Level in a classical language. Although I had done sufficiently well at School Certificate to gain an exemption from matriculation, ie. for entry into university, London University required a qualification in a classical language. Latin was the only subject out of 8 that I failed. I had 2 distinctions, 4 credits, one pass and one failure. So there I was at the age of 28 having to go back to study O level Latin again. Incidentally the set book of Caesar's Gallic Wars was the same as it had been 13 years previously; but whereas it had been boring the first time, after some cycling holidays in France and with a greater awareness of history, the text was now fascinating. I also used that year to try to improve my Hebrew, which was almost non-existent. In that Summer I attended Ulpan in Natanya in Israel together with Michael and Jackie Goulston.
After gaining my degree I did a year of added Rabbinic tuition of Talmud and Shulchan Aruch from Dr Teicher and Rabbi Kokotek. During that year I was assistant to Joseph Ascher responsible for Liberal congregations without Rabbis, conducting services in Leicester, Crawley, Southend, Liverpool, Woodford and the Settlement. For High Holy Days I went to Bristol travelling down there on my Lambretta scooter with a Torah scroll strapped on to the back pannier. In Bristol, Woodford and Leicester the services were in Friends Meeting Houses.
Lily Montagu took a special interest in me as I was employed by West Central to run their religion classes. On two or three occasions I was invited to her family Friday night supper. There was no Kiddush but there was a service of prayers when one of the family read a passage for meditation or study that they had chosen. On one occasion I found myself seated at table next to a young lady, presumably because we were the two youngest present. In chatting I asked her what she did and she said scientific research, so I asked what kind of research and she said into the structure of molecules. Her name was Rosalind Franklyn whose work was used by Crick and Watson to gain them a noble prize. She was a relative of Lily Montagu's sister Netta Franklyn. Later when I found out, I regretted that I did not press for more details, but I felt out of my depth at the time. She was quiet, modest person who was a typical backroom boffin and with a pleasant manner.
During my student years I had spent my student holidays well. One Summer I spent another long Summer in Israel at Ulpan and sight seeing. Another year I went by scooter to Greece travelling through Tito's Yugoslavia. When I was in Sarajevo I visited the museum and was allowed to handle and look at their famous Haggadah. A third summer I went by scooter through Spain to Gibraltar crossed the straits and drove across the desert to Marrakesh. On each trip I carried a tent with me on the scooter. And one year I conducted the first Liberal youth trip to Israel. About two years later together with Sonny Hermon we led a joint Liberal-Reform Youth trip.
I was ordained in 1964 and my first post as a minister was to Birmingham Liberal Synagogue where I stayed for 3 years before going to South London. In 1967, when I arrived at South London it was just after the 6 Day War and I was told that there were two applicants for conversion who had been waiting for some time. One of these made such a deep impression upon me, that after her conversion we started going out together and I eventually proposed to her. Kay and I were married at Prentis Road Synagogue by John Rayner. She has been a most wonderful wife and mother to our two sons, Daniel and Gideon. Particularly after the boys grew up, when she was able to attend more often she has been very popular with members of the congregation. Kay is a vey conscientious, caring and loving person, who worries about hurting even the smallest spider or fly. She has managed to make me very happy and has brought up two lovely moral and caring sons.
After 7 years at South London I took on the double task of Woodford Synagogue and West Central. We moved to live in Wanstead, where we have remained ever since. However after some years I switched the Woodford half for what was then called the Beds Herts Congregation. This involved driving to St Albans, Luton or Bedford twice each week end once for the Friday night service and once for the Sunday Cheder. (Then the journey took longer as the M25 had not yet been opened) While each Saturday afternoon there was the West Central service. At High Holy Days a student used to help and we alternated so that it was a fair division of time.
Eventually, when there was a vacancy at the Settlement I moved there as a full time Rabbi in 1985. The congregation had the feel of a grown up youth club which I found suited me with my past interest in youth work. I was then approaching 54. The Synagogue membership was aging and with the dwindling of the East End Jewish population it was not likely to last a lot longer. I estimated that the post might last 10 years to my retirement. In fact it was 24 years till I fully retired. The prayer books then in use were the Settlements own book for Friday nights and the Reform Siddur for Shabbat morning. We used Reform machzorim for High Holy Days. I found the Settlements prayer book easy to get used to, as many of the prayers were taken from old Liberal Jewish Prayer Books; but the Reform Siddur always seemed to me very rigid and fixed. The services did not have the variability of the Liberal books. There was more emphasis on tradition and upon study and less on thought provoking prayers. Though I soon got to love much of the Settlements own music, particularly after I managed to lose some of the un-Jewish sounding chants of the psalms from the repertoire.
By 1996 , some of the officers finding numbers dwindling and the task of running the congregation burdensome, began secretly planning to disband the congregation. They approached SWERS with a proposal to merge but told the council that the proposal came from Oaks Lane. The congregation had from before I arrived been rather divided between those who came on Friday nights and those who attended on Saturday mornings. The division showed up in the fact that on Friday nights there was a choir and the service was conducted from the Settlement prayer book, while on Saturday morning there was just an organist and the Reform Siddur was used. A few years after I arrived at the Settlement, the Reform Siddur was introduced into the Friday services. When the decision to merge was proposed, most of the larger Friday night attenders favoured the move, while the Saturday morning regulars were anxious to see their service continued. I had to fight very hard to secure the continuance of their Saturday services, and I got more support from the SWERS council for this than from The Settlement officers and council.
I found Henry Golstein very cooperative in smoothing over the problems of merging. Together we worked out a compromise plan for the Friday night services trying to make contents, practices and tunes to be a fair mixture, with me taking a suitable share of the services. And to start with there was a marked growth in the Shabbat eve attendance at Oaks Lane, but gradually the ex-settlement attendance dropped off. So when the conservative ex-SWERS members pressed for a return to more and more of their original customs, I could hardly object. But I felt less and less comfortable with the services, and these changes probably also led to an even smaller ex-Settlement presence.
The Stepney services continued and even without an organist we averaged about 20. It was like a gathering together of friends. Some members who lived in South, West or North postal districts felt that the extra distance to Newbury Park was just too much.
I have had a number of hobbies and interests. Some of which I have been able to use in the course of my Rabbinical life.
I have always been interested in past history. I have written three books; but only one has been published. That was the History of Liberal Judaism, the first Hundred Years. This was written in conjunction with Rosita Rosenberg. I wrote on the first half and she described the later part. The other two books the first was intended as Jewish history book for 13-16 year olds. When I started teaching in Cheder we used a three volume history series produced in USA. The third volume was far too America-centred and I wrote a book which I thought would be more suitable for use in Britain. However, by the time that I completed it there were other books available so I never pressed ahead. But I used some of the research for that book in the History of Liberal Judaism.
The second book that I wrote was called "Judaism Beyond Doubt" and was an introduction to Judaism mainly for prospective converts. This I printed out on a dot-matrix printer and lent copies to candidates I was then teaching at the Montagu Centre.
I never managed to find funding to get this published. Most candidates that I lent it to said that they found it helpful.
It was only the third one written at the request of the Liberal Movement which was eventually published.
I always knew that I was good with my hands. As a teenager I made model aeroplanes. In my twenties at Cordwainers I made myself a pair of handmade shoes. Quite late in life, when I was 60, I discovered that I could paint. I have completed several oil paintings in rather a classical style, which the rest of the family do not think of as art. I have one or two things behind in congregations that I have served. In Birmingham there is a hanging which I designed for one of the congregants to embroider. In the Chiltern Congregation I designed and made a portable Ark, the doors of which are still in use today. SWESRS has one of my paintings showing the exterior of our building in Stepney. I also worked on the ULPS Haggadah, designing the front cover and doing some of the artwork tidying up the illustrations. I was responsible for choosing those illustrations and writing the notes on them.
I have taken many photos and slides of places which I visited Many of these were of specific Jewish interest. For example of the Jewish Catacombs in Rome and their ancient tombstone inscriptions, the old Synagogues of Spain, or illustrations from my collection of Haggadot. I have used as a basis for talks to different groups.
I have built up quite a large collection of fossils (containing well over 300 different species) which I have found in various places in Britain. I have been most interested in the periods before the Cretacious (prior to 65 million years ago). There was one fossil that I found at Kimmeridge Bay which was an Ammonite with three-quarter inch spikes sticking out of it, which I could not find illustrated in any of my fossil books, so I took it to the Natural History Museum for identification. They kept it for a couple of weeks and then wrote back and said it was called Something something longispinus and asked if I would present it to their collection. So one of my finds is now resides in the National collection. This hobby had very little practical benefit to the congregation except for occasional references in sermons in illustrated talks to groups. But it did provide me with an excuse to go off into some of the wilder parts of Britain and experience the thrill of discovering unexpected treasures and experiencing some beautiful sights of nature.
Sometime about the late 1970s I bought my first computer. It was a Spectrum and had all of 16Kb of memory. Later I bought a 48 KB version on which I produced a program which tested a person's ability to recognise the Hebrew letters. I used this in the Cheder and in the Proselyte class. The next computer the Sinclair QL, which was able to produce sounds and not just beeps. I succeeded in teaching it to read a Hebrew text out loud and thus proving that Hebrew is a phonetic language.
By the time I got to the Settlement, I had produced a programme for the Hebrew calendar which would print out a list of yahrzeits for members. This was before such programmes were generally on sale. I persuaded the Settlement to put their accounts on computer and of course their membership list. At the time they took some persuading.
I have produced three web sites. The first two were in connection with Judaism. One was the Stepney Branch Web site. Which gave information about Stepney, the history of the congregation and details of the Jewish East End.
The second was about Jewish Customs which described the various Jewish observances describing their origins and the reason for them. This gave an historical and rational approach and was designed to counter some of the more extreme Orthodox sites.
The third, which I embarked on as a retirement project called exploringeastlondon.co.uk was designed to fill in the gaps in most London guide books which seem to stop at the Tower.
I wanted to show that East London had a lot of historical and artistic interest and that much of this can be seen free of charge by opening ones eyes as one walks around the area. In this I was able to combine my interests in history, art and photography. I have been agreeably surprised by the interest shown and the high rating the site has on Google.
For the Settlements 75th Anniversary I interviewed members of the congregation and produced an audio tape of the history of the Synagogue and Oxford & St Georges Clubs
I also produced a CD containing all the recordings of the Settlement's music that I could find. This was only a very small amount of the total. Having had a blind organist for many years who played by ear there was very little sheet music still existing. Most of the music that survived were choir parts written out in tonic sol fa.