As London prices climb, Manchester beckons Jews from far and near


When Yitzchak Horwitz’s family opened one of the first Jewish businesses in this leafy suburb of Manchester — a bookstore that also sold Judaica items — it served a small Jewish community that had only recently moved there from the downtown area.

“The center was run-down after the war, living conditions deteriorated, we had to get out,” said Horwitz, a man in his 80s who runs and owns the Judaica World store that his family opened here in 1960. “A few Jewish families, a small synagogue and that was pretty much it.”

Nevertheless, Horwitz stuck it out. And half a century later, his business is among dozens of Jewish shops servicing thousands of people from the Jewish community of the Manchester area, some 200 miles north of London. Now this community is among the fastest growing in Western Europe, providing Horwitz income from selling Jewish and Hebrew holy books, textbooks and stationery.

At a time when many Jewish communities outside London are dwindling, the one in the Manchester area is growing almost beyond its own capacity due to the high birthrate of its haredi Orthodox nucleus and an influx of Jewish newcomers. The latter is drawn here by the excellent infrastructure for observant Jews and a cost of living that is roughly half that of pricey London.

“People in London seem to think they earn loads more money,” said Selena Myers, a Liverpool-born observant Jewish in her 20s who works at a local Jewish newspaper. Four years ago she moved from London to Manchester, where she lives with her husband. “In fact, the cost of living is maybe three times higher than in Manchester,” whereas the salaries are not. London, she said, “doesn’t make financial sense.”

London is the world’s most expensive city in which to live and work, according to a study published in March by the Savills international real-estate agency. Accommodation for the average Londoner – calculated as a total of housing and office rental costs – comes to $105,000 a year, putting London ahead of New York ($103,000) and Hong Kong ($96,800).

A view of Manchester’s Victoria train station. (Wikimedia Commons)

Not only is renting in Manchester half the cost of what it is in London, but the average price of a home in the greater Manchester area is $144,000 – a full fifth of the average price in London.

Cost of living is especially important for Orthodox families with many children, like that of Simon Rudich, a Rome-born property investor and lawyer who has raised eight children in Manchester with his British wife.

“If you want to live in England as an observant Jew, which I do, then you have two main options: London or Manchester,” said Rudich. “But you only have one sensible option, which is the one I took.”

The only downside to living in Manchester, he said, “is living without sunshine.” Manchester gets 256 rainy days annually and 34 inches of precipitation – respectively 30 and 21 percent more than London.

When the sun does shine, however, Prestwich is bustling with activity by Jews of all denominations. It has five kosher supermarkets near its center. One features a sushi bar where customers line up for freshly prepared glatt kosher rolls.

There are clothing shops catering to the modest standards of observant women, several kosher butchers, a vegetable shop with exotic produce like gooseberries and mangos from Israel, and a French-style kosher patisserie.

According to a 2011 census by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, greater Manchester in the previous decade saw a 15 percent growth in its Jewish population, to 25,013. Conversely, the city of Manchester itself lost 463 Jews. It is home to Britain’s second largest Jewish population after London, where most of the country’s 250,000 Jews live.

In Manchester, as elsewhere in Western Europe, Jewish families that once lived in middle- and working-class areas of the city have moved into the suburbs, partly to improve their quality of life. Another reason for moving has been the arrival of poorer African and Arab immigrants to neighborhoods that often saw an uptick in crime and, more recently, anti-Semitic harassment.

“I chose Manchester because I’m from South Africa,” said Dianna Schwartz, an observant mother of four. She immigrated five years ago to Prestwich from Cape Town because of what she described as “a deteriorating security situation after 1994,” the year apartheid ended.

“I can’t live in a London apartment, I need space and green. That’s how I grew up,” she said. “But getting that in a part of London that is near a proper Jewish school is just impossible for us.”

Manchester’s Jewish influx has left its 12 or so Jewish schools and kindergartens in need of more space and staff, which has helped generate work, particularly for women.

“When I first moved here, people immediately assumed I was a teacher,” said Myers, the newspaper office worker. “They’d ask me straight away where I teach.”

While Manchester remains significantly cheaper than London, the influx is nonetheless driving up prices and creating a housing shortage in the city’s heavily Jewish areas.

“You’re already seeing new Jewish presence in areas around Prestwich, which used to have no Jews in the past,” Myers said.

Manchester is not the only affordable city in northern Britain with an active Jewish community; Liverpool, Leeds and Bristol all have them. Yet Manchester emerged as the largest because it retained an observant and haredi nucleus, which over time produced community institutions that cemented it as the epicenter of Jewish life outside London, according to Rabbi Hillel Royde of the Manchester Beth Din, or rabbinical court.

Thus Manchester is the only city in northern England with a large haredi school. Myers and her siblings attended school in Manchester for that reason even when they were living in Liverpool, she said.

British lawmaker Luciana Berger meeting members of the Jewish Representative Council of the Manchester area, May 8, 2016. (Courtesy of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region)

This inbound traffic is “creating some problems that are nice to have, but they are nonetheless problems,” Royde said.

His rabbinical court is one of the community’s main tools for solving those problems. Established in 1902, when heavy industry attracted thousands of Jewish immigrants from Europe to the area, the court served 30 butcher shops, supervising ritual slaughter across the region.

Over time it has taken over kashrut supervision for the large food producers in the Manchester area, including the cereal giant Kellogg’s. Supervision fees from such companies are invested back into the community and used to open new schools and fund projects that make Manchester even more attractive for observant Jews — like setting up eruvs, symbolic boundaries that allow observant Jews to carry objects on Shabbat.

In 2014, the Manchester suburbs became the site of Britain’s largest eruv, a 13-mile perimeter that includes Prestwich, Crumpsall and Higher Broughton. Without an eruv, haredi families with children would effectively go into weekend curfews. But setting them up is an expensive and complex process that requires city permits and installing braces, strings and poles to discreetly cordon off the area. Work is ongoing on another eruv in the Manchester suburb of Hale.

These improvements have made life easier for thousands of haredi Jews and are attracting thousands more. And that is changing the nature of a community that, according to Myers, is losing its middle ground.

“Nowadays it’s either you’re very observant or almost not at all,” she said. “It didn’t used to be like that.”

British Jewish cemetery is vandalized


Gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in England were painted with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti, and some were toppled.

The vandalism in Manchester was discovered Monday; it is believed the attack occurred on Sunday or early Monday. A similar attack occurred earlier this month, according to the Manchester Evening News.

Inspector Mike Reid of the Greater Manchester Police told the newspaper that the incident is being treated as a hate crime and comes with stiffer punishments when the vandals are caught.

“The vandalism of a gravestone is, in itself, a sickening act, but to violate the memory of those resting in the cemetery still further by daubing racial slurs on the graves is truly repulsive,” Reid said.

Extra security patrols have been added in the area, according to police.

Manchester couple accused of targeting Jews


A Muslim couple in Manchester, England, allegedly purchased items for homemade bombs to be used against Jewish targets, a court in that city was told.

“It was jihad at home,” prosecutor Bobbie Cheema told the Manchester crown court on Thursday, according to the Guardian. “Between them they acquired substances, common or garden, that can be purchased in supermarkets, equipment and information that would help them to make explosives, and began the process of assembling an improvised explosive device.

In addition, the couple took “multiple reconnaissance” trips to Jewish neighborhoods, according to the Guardian.

British citizens Mohammed Sajid Khan, 33, and his wife, Shasta, 38, allegedly were inspired by al-Qaida propaganda on the Internet, the court was told, the newspaper reported.

The couple’s alleged intentions were discovered when a police officer was called to their home during a domestic dispute. “She took it as an opportunity to spill the beans about the activities Sajid Khan had been undertaking,” Cheema reportedly said.

Opinion: The pragmatists


Yehuda Avner arrived in Israel in 1947 from his native Manchester, England, as an idealistic religious Zionist. His keen intellect landed him a post in the foreign service, and his English proficiency almost guaranteed that he would be the designated note taker as he traveled with four prime ministers from the earliest days of the State to the aftermath of the Lebanon War. 

He scribbled those notes in an invented shorthand and rounded them out with the occasional observational adjective. And, fortunately for us, he kept those notes. 

The result is “The Prime Ministers,” a 700-plus-page book that you will read in a single gulp. The book, like Israel itself, is a great story.

On Monday morning, I phoned Avner, who will be in Los Angeles shortly to speak publicly about his book. He was at his home in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. 

His voice, like that of his book, is enthusiastic, engaging and, considering he is closing in on 84, vibrant. It doesn’t hurt that he has a charming British accent: From Abba Eban to Mark Regev, we American Jews are suckers for Israelis who speak British and think Yiddish.  

Avner is quick to set one thing straight: “The Prime Ministers” is not the work of a historian. It is a memoir. But as someone who has stood by the side of four Israeli leaders during times of dire crisis and triumph, Avner has earned the right to offer his perspective.

The heroes in Avner’s telling are not the usual suspects. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, the Yiddish-speaking shtetl Jew who inherited the reins of power after the great David Ben-Gurion, comes across as a leader of pivotal importance for Israelis — and Americans. 

“He was the Harry Truman of Israel,” Avner told me.

In the tense days before the Six-Day War, Eshkol exerted his steel will to resist calls for preemptive military action against the Egyptians, even as his top generals and ministers, and the entire country, lined up against him. In the meantime, he worked to convince President Lyndon Johnson that Israel’s — and America’s — interest would be served by American support for an eventual Israeli attack. When Johnson gave the yellow light, Israel pounced — defeating its enemies while retaining the superpower support Eshkol knew was critical. 

“I saw a situation where persuasion actually worked,” Avner the diplomat told me. “Eshkol got through to Johnson. That relationship marked a major historic turning point between Israel and America.”

Another hero is Menachem Begin. Often caricatured in the West as an irredentist right-winger, the Begin that emerges in Avner’s anecdotes is a man of supreme erudition and deep concern for all Jews, with a willingness to join forces with his ideological opponents for the good of the country.  

As for Yitzhak Rabin, Avner recounts several conversations that show what a concentrated and analytic intellect the general brought to bear on existential issues. 

How, I asked Avner, do today’s leaders compare? 

“They were made of much flintier rock,” he told me of the men and woman he served. “The circumstances forged them in that furnace of Eastern Europe, with its constant state of social and political turbulence. Also, all of them were literate Jews. They took it for granted they would breed a generation of literate Jews. It didn’t work out that way.

Olmert, Barak, Bibi — none of them have been put to the test. When was the last war of survival Israel had to fight? The Yom Kippur War. But maybe it’s Bibi’s turn with Iran.

The private deliberations Avner recounts do shed light on what made the great Israeli leaders great. There is a cocktail of Zionism that has to be mixed with just the right proportion of realism and idealism, of messianic fervor and pragmatic compromise. And these leaders understood that. They were, in Avner’s words, “intensely pragmatic.”

Despite Israel’s longstanding public policy not to negotiate with terrorists, in private Rabin, and even Begin, both were willing to do so to save lives. Rabin also saw how Israel’s long-term security depended not just on winning wars, but also on compromise. 

“You can’t just ignore it,” Avner said about the demographic problem that Rabin understood confronts Israel. “At the end of the day, it is two states for two people.” 

Looking back from his considerable vantage point, Avner marvels at his country’s sweeping progress.

“I can’t recall a time that has been better than it is now,” he said. “There’s no war. The borders are quiet despite some acting up, and the country is flourishing.”

But his optimism is tempered by the awareness that the story of struggle and crisis he so aptly tells is far from over. 

Avner himself was wounded fighting in the siege of Jerusalem in 1948; his son was wounded in the Yom Kippur War, and his daughter was severely injured in the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.

“It has taken quite a lot to defend Israel,” he said. “We actually have fought two Wars of Independence. The first was in 1948, the right to defend ourselves in our own land. The second war is not yet over. We are still surrounded by enemies on every side.”

I asked Avner if during ’48 or ’67, in the years of hardship and fear, he ever envisioned the kind of state Israel would be at 64.

“No, never,” he said. “You live in the present.”

And you take notes.

Yehuda Avner will speak about his book “The Prime Ministers” at Congregation Beth Jacob on May 18 and 19. The public is invited. For details, visit this column at jewishjournal.com.

Ozzy’s Father-in-Law Bails Out Synagogue


Rock legend Ozzy Osbourne’s father-in-law has intervened in the Higher Crumpsall/Higher Broughton Synagogue row with the Synagogue Council to settle the shul’s debt with a burial board.

Manchester-born Don Arden (formerly Harry Levy), whose sister Eileen Somers is administrator of the synagogue, was so grieved to hear of the shul’s problems that this week he transferred funds of £3,695 (almost $6,033) to cover the shortfall, plus a significant donation.

Arden — now 77 and living in Los Angeles, where he bought Howard Hughes’ former home — was a member of Higher Crumpsall’s choir and was bar mitzvahed there. His daughter, Sharon, is married to Osbourne and Arden himself is often seen on MTV’s highly rated Osbournes’ family saga.

Arden himself is a legendary name in the music business. Having left school, Arden began his show business career at 13 as a singer and stand-up comic in Manchester. In the 1960s, he began booking American rockers for European tours. Then he started to manage major ’60s acts like The Move and The Small Faces, before reaching a commercial pinnacle in the ’70s as manager of ELO and of singer Lynsey de Paul. He also founded his own Jet record label.

Arden worked as an entertainer on the British variety circuit. He impersonated famous tenors, like Caruso, and movie gangsters such as Edward G. Robinson and George Raft. On weekends, Yiddish-speaking Arden wowed Jewish audiences with his Al Jolson routine. In 1954, he became a showbiz agent and started organizing Hebrew folk song contests, then putting together his own shows. He signed up American rock ‘n’ roller Gene Vincent in 1960 and, for several years, brought American rockers, including Vincent, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, to England. — The Manchester Jewish Telegraph