From Bratislava to Broughton Park
Many people ascribe success in their lives to luck and chance. They were in the right place at the right time, they happened to meet or know the right person at the right time. But believers know that nothing happens by chance, everything is by divine providence, even the aggravation caused by pulling out the wrong denomination coin from one’s pocket. “Mikrah”, “happening”, turned around means “only from Hashem”, “Rak MeHashem”. Divine providence or “Hashgocho protis” as it is known, is evident throughout Rev Brodie’s life:- his arrival in Manchester, his board and lodgings in Manchester, his beginnings in Stenecourt and even the return of the family silver, to name just a few. The congregation is indeed fortunate to have a man of the calibre of Rev Brodie at their helm.
Gabriel Brodie was born on 7 July 1924 in Bratislava, in the province of Slovakia. He was the second of 4 children, 3 boys and 1 girl. His family were strictly orthodox in observance and modern in appearance. His father, one of 17 children, ran a business in coffee beans, tea and spices. Gabriel attended an Orthodox Jewish Elementary School and from 11, Yesodei Hatorah, where he had intensive Talmud Studies during the day. In the evening he attended classes run by the Jewish Secondary School to learn secular subjects. He spoke German, Slovakian, Hungarian and learnt Esperanto. The family attended the Gestetner Shul, in their apartment block, and his father was active on the Shul Executive. Gabriel attended a youth group of Agudat Yisroel and led a happy life. He went to the swimming pool on the Danube, played in the park and suffered little anti-Semitism. He was already proficient in reading Maftir before his barmitzvah since he had said it 18 times in the small shul in his Uncle’s village. The star event of his barmitzvah was the pilpul he gave at the ‘at home’ on Shabbos afternoon before the revered Rov of Pressburg, a descendant of the Chatam Sopher.
However life was soon to change. In March 1938 Hitler annexed Austria, which meant that the Germans were now on the opposite side of the Danube to Bratislava and could be seen across the River. The local Hlinka Guard, modelled on the Nazis grew in strength and anti-Semitism increased. By the summer of 1938 war was felt to be so imminent that Gabriel and his siblings evacuated from the border town of Bratislava inland to Nitra. Whilst there they learnt of the Munich agreement signed by Chamberlain, whereby the Sudeten-German region of Czechoslovakia was given to Germany and annexed in October 1938. It felt as if the net was tightening. For Gabriel’s family this was the turning point and from then on his father thought seriously about trying to send his children away.
At that time it was easy for Czech citizens to come to England, since no visa was needed, due to a five year agreement between Britain and Czechoslovakia, which expired on 31 March 1939. Under this agreement Czech citizens could travel freely between the two countries, provided they could show that they were invited by someone who would be responsible for their maintenance. Gabriel’s father knew of a Rev Einhorn, who was the son of Gabriel’s Cheder teacher and who had held a position at a London Shul for many years. He wrote to him in the hope that he knew of some institution which would admit his two elder sons in the first instance. Rev Einhorn managed to obtain a letter of admission for the boys at Etz Chaim Yeshivah in London.
Days before they managed to leave, Hitler annexed Bohemia and Moravia on 15 March 1939. Slovakia became an independent state and was taken over by Father Hlinka and his Guard and anti-Semitism greatly increased. It had been arranged for Rev Einhorn to come back to Bratislava to visit his parents and to take the two boys back with him to England. He arrived on Thursday 18 March and was due to leave with the boys the following Tuesday. That Shabbos morning the Brodie family received a letter from Manchester Yeshivah inviting the boys to learn there. A nephew of the renowned Chazan Stern had already been admitted by Manchester Yeshivah from Bratislava a few months before and Mrs Rivka Stern, who many years later became a popular member of Stenecourt, persuaded the Yeshivah to send letters to a number of further boys in Bratislava, besides the many invitations they were sending to Germany. The invitation arrived that Shabbos with a better offer. Manchester Yeshivah promised to provide for the upkeep of the boys, whilst the letter from London did not make this clear and it was uncertain if the boys’ father would be able to send money regularly, if necessary, due to the current political situation. And so, at the last moment it was decided that the boys would go to Manchester. They travelled to England on Tuesday 23 March with Rev Einhorn and he then put them on the train to Manchester. Gabriel was 14, his brother 16. They left behind a brother of 12 and a sister of 10. The boys later tried to bring over their younger brother but the agreement had expired and he was too young for the Yeshivah. He perished in Auschwitz together with Gabriel’s parents. Gabriel’s sister survived.
The boys’ arrival in Manchester was very traumatic. A telegram with details of their journey had been sent but there was no-one at the station to meet them. They caught a bus to Albert Road off Middleton Rd, where two boys from Bratislava were staying. They found the street but could not find the number of the house since the houses had names. It took an hour to find it by which time it was 11pm. They had a drink but where were they going to sleep? Mr Kessler, with whom the boys were lodging, took them to the house of his sister, Mrs Fisher, just for the night. By then it was 12.30am. The next morning, erev Shabbos, they went to the Yeshiva. Due to the arrival of so many refugees to the Yeshivah at that time, it seemed unclear to the boys whether lodgings had been found for them and so they went back to Mrs Fisher’s, a kind hearted person, who told them they could stay for the time being. In fact they stayed there for several years!
During the week boys ate in the Yeshivah but on Shabbos and Yomtov they were sent to a family. On that first Friday night Gabriel was sent to eat with the family of the renowned Talmid Chochom, Reb Gedalya Rabbinowitz, zatzal, the father of Reb Lippe, shlite, and the son of the Sunderland Rov. He ate with this family from the first weekend he arrived until the day of his aufruf!
The boys were to receive 7 shillings a week from the Yeshivah, of which four was for their lodgings and three shillings for everything else. However they often received nothing since the Yeshivah had no money and so the boys attempted to earn a little themselves. Gabriel found himself a little lesson teaching someone to read. In those days the Yeshivah was often asked if it could provide men to make up a minyan at a shiva house and Gabriel and 3 other boys put their names down with the secretary to be given first option on these requests. For attendance at a shiva house, in the morning and evening for 6 days, one received about two shillings. As Gabriel had sung in his small shul choir for the Yomim Noroyim as a child and had a feeling for davening, he also did lehning and davening in overflow services for Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. He would also deputise if a Chazan Sheni was away over a Shabbos, such as for Rev Shlomo Shine who davened at Stenecourt. Gabriel’s first semi-regular lehning job was at the Hashkomo minyan in the Central Shul for Pesach and Succos, when their regular Shliach Tzibur, Rabbi Boruch Steinberg, went home to Gateshead for Yomtov. In 1943 he unofficially started working at Heaton Park Synagogue as Chazan Sheni and part-time secretary. After a while the Synagogue applied to the Aliens Department of the Labour Exchange to obtain a work permit for Rev Brodie to make his job official. This was denied and the Synagogue stopped employing him. In the meantime he was again asked to deputise on Shabbos at Stenecourt whilst Rev Shine went for a job interview in London. He got the job and as, by now, Rev Brodie was well known at Stenecourt, he applied for the position. So started his association with our congregation in July 1944 at £1 a week!
In the meantime he had met his wife, Marga. She was born in Warburg, Germany and had come to England on a Children’s Transport. In due course she went to work as a domestic for a family in Manchester, the only employment permitted to refugees, but later became ill and could not continue in that job. She had found herself a room in Wellington St, for which she had to pay a rent she could not afford, since she was not well enough to work. Mrs Fisher knew Marga and kindly offered her a spare bed and that’s how Gabriel met her. She acted as a successful unofficial “shadchante” after which Rev Brodie found a room at a Rev Nemtzov in Moxley Rd. Mrs Fisher moved with her family and Marga to the home of her widowed brother, Morris Kessler in Albert Rd, from where Marga was married.
Up to four weeks before the wedding the couple had nowhere to live and they were getting desperate. Rev Brodie approached Mr Eli Fox, whom he knew from Heaton Park Shul. Mr Fox was an insurance agent, who also owned some property. The day Rev Brodie came to see him, he had just bought a house in Woodlands Road for resale. Out of sympathy for the young couple he decided to split it into two flats. The Brodies took the downstairs flat and found friends to take the upstairs flat. The following month in October 1945 the couple were married at the Great Synagogue by the saintly Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi M I Segal, zatzal.
On his marriage Rev Brodie was granted 100% increase in his wages at Stenecourt to £2 a week but without the extra £15 he had received previously for Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. At that time Stenecourt only davened on Shabbos morning since services were still mainly at the Great Synagogue on Cheetham Hill Rd.. Gradually services at Stenecourt increased, starting with Friday evening, Sunday morning and a rota for a daily minyan. Rev Brodie started giving a shiur between mincha and maariv on Shabbos afternoon. As the numbers attending the Great Synagogue on Cheetham Hill Road declined, a new building was erected at Stenecourt to which the Executive moved together with Chazan Pearlman, with Rev Brodie becoming Chazan Sheni. Sermons were usually given by Communal Rabbi Dr Altman, who considered Stenecourt his shul. One Shabbos in 1957 Rabbi Altman was due to address a barmitzvah boy but could not attend shul due to lumbago. Rev Brodie volunteered to address the boy himself but the Executive did not feel he had the experience. However the boy’s father was only too happy for him to do this and so he gave his first sermon! From then on the Executive were happy for him to preach again. As the shul grew so Rev Brodie’s duties evolved, although he has never officially been appointed minister.
Rev and Mrs Brodie went on to raise their own family in Manchester with their two sons, Yehuda and Anthony and they in turn have married and raised families. Rev Brodie’s brother made aliyah from Thaxted Bachad Hachshara in 1950 and his sister, who survived Auschwitz, first came to live with them after the war and then followed her brother to Israel. In the 1970s Rev Brodie received a visit from his father’s brother who by then was 81. He had survived the war in Bratislava and had worked in a shoe shop there after the war. His mother and brother had survived in their village of Sobotishte until they and the entire small community of some 25 families were deported. Prior to that some of them deposited a small parcel with a friendly non-Jewish villager for safekeeping until they returned but no-one came back When he was getting old he gave it to his daughter and told her to give it to any Jew she might meet, who had any background in the village. One day she came to Bratislava and providence led her to the shoe shop, where Rev Brodie’s uncle worked. On discovering that the salesman was Jewish and had been born in the village, she brought to him the parcel given to her by her father. Among the contents were his own father’s becher, which he had received on his wedding and his father’s besomim box. He now brought these to his nephew and they are treasured items in the Brodie household.
Considering that Rev Brodie was never initially coming to Manchester; that he nearly had a permanent job in Heaton Park Shul and that his start in Stenecourt was tenuous, the Congregation are indeed blessed to have benefited from 60 years of his dedicated service to the Shul. Under his leadership the Shul has blossomed into the thriving and active community it is today. May Rev and Mrs Brodie merit to see the community go from strength to strength and may they enjoy many years of health, happiness and nachas from their family and their Stenecourt family.