At live and online Anglo-Jewish community events since the end of Lockdown 2, one has not heard much wailing about the severe tier restrictions on public houses. There are doubtless some property owners who have pubs among their tenants, but it has not been a particularly vocal group.
Jews generally don’t do booze. There are among us Kiddush whisky connoisseurs and fine wine mavens still looking for other choices than Palwin. And I know the late great Chazan Kalman Fausner – my Hebrew mentor – was partial to half a pint of bitter at the Freemasons on Western Road in Hove after a morning teaching impudent barmitzvah boys. He also enjoyed a modest brandy on Shabbat. It was, he would joyfully declare, good for the voice.
Many of us will have also experienced the frustration of non-Jewish wedding receptions, even in the smartest locations such as Blenheim Palace, where the Bollinger flows for hours and all one yearns for is a smoked salmon or falafel station. Yet it would be incorrect to think Anglo-Jewry is unconnected to the licenced trade.
My maternal grandparents were publicans at the Rock Inn in the heart of Kemp Town in Brighton. The Woolley family, friends when
I was growing up, were the offspring of the landlords at the Sussex pub in the heart of Brighton.
Another close friend in London traces his family’s multi-generational support for Chelsea FC back to the fact that one set of grandparents were publicans at the Three Compasses in Farringdon before moving west. This history of Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century migration from Eastern Europe making their way in the world as inn keepers is not one often talked about.
As a baby boomer, brought up in the years when the Second World War was still a fresh memory, my childhood was filled with tales of derring-do from the Rock, where my uncle had taken over from my grandfather Louis Caplin and my mother’s elder sisters once helped behind the bar in the more discrete snug.
The Rock was what we would call in the Covid world a safe space. It vast and deep cellars provided shelter from Nazi bombs during the Battle of Britain. As the German planes headed back across the channel, having done their worst in London they would discard surplus ordinance over Brighton. The experience was so terrifying that the Mother Superior at the local convent school arranged with my grandfather, a stalwart of the historic Middle Street synagogue, that when the sirens sounded, the Catholic girls would be brought across the road to take shelter in the cellar.
So it came to pass, on a fateful day, when hundreds of people perished at the bombing of the Kemp Town Odeon – next door to the convent – children and their teachers were safely ensconced in the Rock’s cellar.
We also learned of the Brighton fishermen, whose small boats were part of the evacuation flotilla at Dunkirk, arriving at the pub in their oilskins for a pint as soon as they disembarked. My father Michael, a refugee from the Nazis, would recall driving to the Rock from his small farm just outside the town – to call in on my mother – and the strafing German planes forcing him off the road.
At no time throughout this historic mayhem did my grandfather or the government decide that the pubs shut up shop. Blackouts, yes, but the Tamplins ale still flowed. A can-do attitude prevailed. How different to the tiered existence of Covid. This Chanukah, the cheer likely will be shared at home.