It became an annual custom. They would invite us, and a few days later, we would invite them. This always took place round the Xmas-New Year holidays, for these neighbors weren’t Jewish. We were living in Sale, a pleasant, middle-class suburb south of Manchester where, in the late 1970s, there were not many Jewish families. A mezuza on the doorpost was a rare sight.
We had nothing in common with the Parkers, apart from sharing the internal wall which preserved the two semi-detached houses in their self-contained spaces, and the privet hedge which kept their manicured garden apart from our less well-tended one. They were polite, a little distant; that was fine with us as we had no ambition to be close friends with them. We sought pleasant neighborly relations, nothing more.
When we would see them in their drive or over the hedge, there was a short exchange relating to the weather. “Mild for the time of year, isn’t it?” Or, “Looks like rain, I’m afraid,” or a compliment about the size of their dahlias (us to them), or how big Rosemary was getting (them to us). Over time, we got to know a little of their routine.
Sunday mornings, Mr. Parker would come out to his drive, and with a selection of dusters and cleaning materials would clean and polish his already spotless car. When he had finished, we, looking out of our living room window, waited for his sigh of self-satisfaction, which was a cue for Mrs. Parker to come out of the front door, behatted in her Sunday finery, cast her eyes over his efforts and nod, saying, “Very nice, dear.” She would then wait expectantly for her husband to come round to her side of the car, open the door for her and then seat herself ready to be driven off to church for the 11 o’clock service. It was the same every week.
Our Shabbat morning routine may well have seeped into their consciousness in the same way. Kathy, our non-Jewish teenage babysitter, would ring our front doorbell and, after we gave her instructions for the three hours or so we’d be in shul, and kissed Rosemary and Louise goodbye, we would set off, dressed in our Shabbat best. After shul, there would be a few friends with us, who would come in for kiddush on their way home. The Parkers, who were usually weeding their flower beds, or mowing the lawn, might well have said to one another, “Ah, they’re back from their synagogue. Must be time for lunch.”
Two sets of neighbors, joined by a wall and a hedge, but worlds apart.
For us, moving to Sale was rather like going to live in a foreign country. The manners, the language, the culture were quite different from what we’d been used to in the hub of Jewish North Manchester, Prestwich (where my then husband had lived) and Broughton Park (my home territory). Broom Lane, to me, was the center of the Jewish world, 90% of the residents were Jewish. I was used to neighbors called Olsberg, Feingold, Halberstadt, not Parker or Tomlinson.
Living a Jewish life, keeping a Jewish home, was very easy in North Manchester. The butchers, grocers and bakers were all kosher. There were several shuls, a choice of Jewish primary schools, even a Jewish tennis club, and the whole atmosphere pulsated with Jewishness. Everyone I met in the street or in the stores had a face whose features were familiar to me even if I didn’t know them personally. They had not yet learned to put on the mask of English indifference, and conversations with “unsere” (a fellow Jew) were enlivened with a word or phrase in Yiddish.
We could have stayed in Prestwich, or Broughton Park, where our parents had established themselves, but we went to live in Sale, on the other side of Manchester, where we found a small house in an unfashionable part of the suburb at a price we could afford. We made our way to the shul the first Shabbat after we moved in, and were immediately welcomed by the small group of shomrei Shabbat families, who became our close friends. We liked the shul, and the community, and life there was pleasant. We could see our future in Sale. After a few years, we bought a larger house nearer to the shul.
The Xmas season was approaching, and the unwanted annual invitation from the Parkers arrived. My husband was sick with flu, so I took myself and my two daughters next door for an hour’s pleasantries and neighborliness. With as much enthusiasm as I could muster, I admired their decorations – baubles, sparkly streamers, the Xmas tree, hung with silver and gold stars. Rosemary and Louise oohed and aahed in genuine appreciation of the gaudy show.
“I always feel so sorry for your children, not having Xmas,” gloated Mrs. Parker, hypocritically, a smug smile on her thin lips.
At that moment, something in me snapped. I managed to control myself as I replied,
“Oh, but you know we have so many festivals and, of course, the Sabbath each week.”
Surface courteousness was maintained but, as soon as I could, I wrapped the children in their coats and, with wishes for a happy festive season, we hurried home.
I opened the door and, once we were all inside, slammed it hard. I left Louise and Rosemary sitting on the carpet in the hall, and raced up the stairs. Even before I opened the bedroom door, I began to shout “That’s the last time we’re going to be here for Xmas. That’s it. It’s enough.”
It was the last time. Mrs. Parker’s condescension spurred us into action. We contacted the Jewish Agency, and three months later, we went on a Pilot Trip with Tour ve-Aleh, with other prospective olim (immigrants) to see what opportunities there were. We made up our minds during that trip that Israel, not Sale, was where our future lay, and we came on aliyah just before Rosh Hashana.
What an amazing amount of siyata d’shmaya we had. That Hashem guided us to Sale, where we put down roots, made friendships, and felt we were settled enough to buy a bigger house. Life was good there. But it looked as if Hashem made sure that it would not be TOO good there.
I would love to tell Mrs. Parker that our neighborly relations – and of course Hashem’s help – led to our family going to live in Israel.