The daughter frightened by moseley's marchers;Social history

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
On Saturday afternoons in the 1920s and 30s, after everyone had left the Princelet Street synagogue downstairs, Esther Reback would sit beside her father, Myer, in their kitchen and listen to stories.

First there would be stories from the Bible; then about his old life in the Russian horseguards. But he never spoke of the pogroms that forced first him and then his wife to flee Russia and come to London's East End. "He knew that would upset us," she recalls.

In 1913, Myer Reback was the "shammas" at 19 Princelet Street, appointed to organise services at the synagogue. He stayed at the house until his death in 1961. He also made kosher wine in the below-stairs kitchen: Esther, the indulged youngest of his six children, remembers being allowed to dip a finger in and taste it.

Esther (pictured right) was born there. The family spoke Yiddish at home, though her parents had learnt English. They had little money and very little living space: father, mother and five daughters all slept in the one second-floor bedroom, while the son had a sofa-bed in the kitchen. They washed in a sink in the passageway. The beautiful first-floor parlour - formerly the Ogier's drawing room - was let to them too, but was opened only for special occasions, perhaps once a year.

Esther went - unenthusiastically - to the Jews Free School, where during the week she learnt scripture in the mornings and other subjects in the afternoons. She also went there for Hebrew lessons on Sunday mornings.

One day a week after school she helped to dust the synagogue. On other days she was allowed to chalk on the kitchen walls. Sometimes she could skip in the street, but she could not go further and the family rarely went out except to the market or to see relatives.

Once Esther and her sister did slip out to Osborne Street, two roads away, to see the Moseley marchers. "They were picking the pavements up," she recalls. "We were two nosey parkers, we shouldn't have been there. We were frightened. When they started to march we ran into the dressmaker's shop."

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