The last journey of my father Michael Brummer took the cortege past the Hove Hebrew Congregation on Holland Road which had been such an important part of his life. The doors of the shul has been especially opened along with the gates to the aron kodesh.
As the procession reached the doors in the milky May sunshine, Rabbi Samuel Spitzer miraculously appeared to make the delivery of a cake for the Shabbat Kiddush. He stood on the steps of the synagogue, opened his lungs and recited verses from tillim (psalms). Passing cars stopped and waited reverently, paying a silent tribute to an unknown warrior.
My father Michael lived to 103 years, outlasting all of his generation in the golden era of Hove Jewry when the pews of Holland Road synagogue were packed. Congregants came to hear the golden voice of Chazan Kalman Fausner, the spluttered and passionate sermons of Rabbi Wilner and the full throated chants of the Rev Shlomo Josephs. As a longstanding warden and vice-president there was no more outstanding servant to the community than Michael. Right up until his 103rd birthday he was in his seat smiling, shaking hands, worrying about the minyan and immersed in prayer.
A long and complex journey brought my dad to Brighton. He was born in the shadow of the Carpathian mountains on the border between Hungary and Czechoslovakia near the town of Berehove. It was territory which would change hands six times in his lifetime, eventually landing in the Ukraine. At the age of 14 he travelled to Pressburg (Bratislava) where his older brother Hillel was training to be a cantor. My father was a glass merchant’s apprentice but also became part of the Yeshiva community and attracted to the tough intellectual Zionism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
From there my father found himself drawn to a pre-Israel naval unit based near Geneo in Italy, where he spent two years training to become an arm of the future Jewish state. In 1938, with conflict widening across Europe, my father and his Zionist compatriots, in their naval uniforms, sailed to Palestine, with the intention of landing in Haifa. Instead they were turned away by British mandate forces and warning shots were fired. The young Zionist sailors returned to Europe in the midst of the Anschluss as Nazi troops swarmed across Austria.
My father made his way across war strewn Europe, back to his birthplace to visit his parents and younger siblings in territory under Hungarian control. He was beaten up at the station by Arrow Cross thugs but made his way to the family home and farm and encouraged his younger brother to escape with him to England, where his older brother Hillel already was established as Chazan-Mohel at St Annes near Liverpool.
His younger brother was turned back at the Czech border and, like the rest of the family, was caught up in Shoah. My father’s parents were to die at Auschwitz. His younger siblings, through grit and willpower, survived. My father eventually made it to England as Neville Chamberlain declared war.
It was a blessed escape and he had an early introduction to British tolerance when an unknown lady engaged him in conversation and walked him across London from Victoria to Kings Cross to help him on his way to Liverpool.
He eventually settled in Brighton as a farmer, poultry supplier and kosher butcher and delicatessen proprietor. He would meet my mother, from the old established Anglo-Jewish Lyons family, on the steps of Middle Street synagogue.
Few who came into his shop on Waterloo Street, then the Golders Green Road of Hove, knew of the adventures which brought Michael to Brighton. The heyday of Brighton and Hove Jewry is past. My father the link in the golden chain to a new generation on the south coast. The old-established communities are seeking to rebuild shuls and community centres for a new generation.
Michael’s death marks the end of an era.