The House Of The Rabbi: Open All Strangers
An extract from an interview with David. A charming man, full of jokes and an absolute wealth of information.
My father moved to the Sudan in 1906, he was Moroccan and my mother was also from Morocco. He was born in Morocco but he went as a child to Israel to study to become a Rabbi. When he graduated at the age of twenty he couldn't be a Rabbi unless he got married, so they matched him with my late mother of blessed memory. They matched her, and of course they brought her to Palestine, now it is Israel, and that's how he married her. He was six years older than her; she was just almost fifteen. But that is history, that’s how they did things in those days. He was a gentleman and a scholar. He was a very, very educated man - in those days you know you didn’t go to universities! He was very enlightened from his own intelligence. When he read the Torah on Yom Shabbat, he would also say the Song of Songs, whatever there is in Talmud and etcetera in Arabic. Every Saturday when he spoke, when we read the Torah, he would explain it in Arabic. Everything in Arabic and in Hebrew, and he was also a Mohel.
I tell you the old joke about how he got his wisdom. They used to say that he has six daughters and so he has to find husbands for them - that’s why he is liberal! It means that whoever came, he would invite them for dinner, so they would meet the daughters. And I think it was true the joke! Because he had daughters. His first six children were Esther, Fortune (Mazal), then one boy called Eliyahu - the Commander in Chief, then Allegra, and then Rachel, and then Serena. So that’s the first six - he had five daughters and one son. Then started the boys: Edmond, Samuel, one girl called Vicky and last, four years later me, the baby. We used to call Vicky the princess because she was one daughter amongst three sons.
But the house of the Rabbi was an open house to all strangers. Whoever came to the Sudan had to come to him and my mother, she was ... she used to sing to me. The way they brought her up is to pray. She knew how to take care of the home, she knew how to keep the kosher home, she knew all of it - and she taught her children, her daughters. My father used to tease her, this is one of my memories (laughs). When she served everybody on Erev Shabbat, the evening of Shabbat, she would be serving this one, serving that one. Of course we had servants who helped her, but she insisted on all of the kashrut etcetera etcetera, so she was in the kitchen most of time. But the funny part is that when she helped everybody she would sit down, the last one to start eating and then he used to tease her. He will say,
which means Rabbanit,
‘Are you still eating???’
and she hasn’t even started! (laughs)
She never called him Shlomo near us, she only called him ‘ya chacham’ it means ‘the wise man’.
Growing up there was a room for the girls and a room for the boys. It was the big home of the Rabbi. I played right underneath my mother in the house. As we grew up, in the early morning we said our prayers with the Rabbi, with my father. And we went to the synagogue with my father. Nobody had cars or anything in those days. I grew up, I played with the kids, they broke my arm when I was thirteen when I was playing soccer, koura. These are the memories! But my brother Samuel became a good tennis player so he taught me, he is the only one I could look up to, he was the youngest of the others - the boys - before I was born. He was a mentor so to speak.
But in the business world, after the war, my mentor became my oldest brother. He called the shots because my father was getting old and he was the right hand of the father. And he said,
‘David you do this, David you do that’,
so I took all their instructions and I laughed! We were different groups the older ones and the younger ones. The fun part of it is that Edmond was sent to Palestine to study to be a Rabbi and he wound up as a Lawyer! But the younger ones that were left after the older ones went to work and got married, the babies, were Samuel, Vicky and myself; we were spoilt. And not really related at all to the older ones. They just looked at us as children. We used to call my brother-in-laws ‘Uncle’ - the husbands of the older sisters. They didn’t recognise us as brother-in-law! You know, your brother-in-law you call him ‘David’, or ‘Jim’, or whatever. You don’t call him ‘Uncle’! Another history story for you.
One more part of history from my father. My father-in-law was a Danon, his main language was Italian because he came from Alexandria, Egypt but from Italy originally. He wound up in Sudan and of course they matched him to my mother in law, they got betrothed in my Brit Milah and he eventually developed his own business of typewriters. Anyway, the long and the short of it - they became affiliated not with the Jewish Club, but with the Italian club because he liked to speak Italian. Then World War Two comes and they - the British - arrest all the people who are in the Italian club, because they were enemies! So they arrest this man and they put him on house arrest. Then my father finds out and he says,
‘What do you mean he is Italian?! I married him to the daughter of my friend!’
and he got him out of that arrest. Since then they became members of the Jewish Club, and very active. That’s how I met my beautiful childhood sweetheart Janet, their daughter. Of course you could only marry in those days, and so I married her at the end of the war. November 5th 1944, as I had to be twenty one.