Rabbi uncorks family surprise

HISTORIC SNAPSHOT: The wedding of Liverpudlian Rev Myer Wolfson to Sara Chmielnicki in Porozov, Poland, in 1931. Except for the bride and groom, none of the 50 wedding guests are believed to have survived the Holocaust

FOR more than 70 years, former Manchester King David Infant School head teacher Phyllis Cohen and her siblings thought their mother had lost all her relatives in the Holocaust.

That was until former Liverpudlian minister Rabbi Avraham Goldberg, who was murdered in a Jerusalem synagogue last year, found a branch of their mother's family was prospering in Israel, running one of the country's largest wineries.

Phyllis and sister Betty Miers, of Liverpool, and brothers Norman Wolfson, also of Liverpool, and David Wolfson, of Salford, were the children of Liverpudlian Rev Myer Wolfson and his Polish wife, Sara (nee Chmielnicki).

After serving as minister to Hastings and Aberdeen Hebrew Congregations, Myer wanted to study shechita.

But as training facilities were not available in the UK, Myer trained as a shochet with a distant relative, Reb Sholom Chmielnicki, of Porozov, Poland.

Myer fell in love with and married the shochet's daughter, Sara, and took her back to Liverpool with him, where he served as a shochet, as well as minister of Fountains Road and Fairfield synagogues and later as assistant minister of Childwall Hebrew Congregation.

Sara took her two small daughters back to Poland for a visit in 1936 .

Phyllis said: "My mother was terribly homesick. Travelling wasn't easy. We went back to Poland to see her family and stayed a few weeks. I can't remember it because I was about two or three at the time."

David, who was not born at the time of the Polish trip, said: "Having bravely passed through Nazi Germany in both the outward and return journeys, my mother and her daughters arrived back safely to Liverpool.

"That journey was the last meeting between my mother and her family.

"A wedding photo showing Sara and Myer surrounded by about 50 relatives and friends reminded her of them.

"During the war no news of Sara's family was received. Eventually it became obvious that all her family had been murdered, that out of the 50 or so people in the wedding photo, only the bride and groom with certainty had survived.

"My mother sublimated her natural feelings and didn't mention the very distressing situation of her family. A vacuum had been created.

"After the war many efforts were made to trace her family but they proved fruitless. Her husband and children did not speak about the family for fear of distressing her."

Through Yad Vashem, they discovered that most of the family had died in Mauthausen.

Then, last year, through Rabbi Goldberg, the siblings discovered the Israeli branch descended from Simcha Chmielnicki, the brother of shochet Sholom Chmielnicki, Sara's father.

In 1882, Simcha's son, Michoel, was encouraged by Baron de Rothschild to make aliya and set up a vineyard in Shefeya, near Zichron Yaakov.

Poet Chaim Nachman Bialik suggested they change their family name from Chmielnicki, which was also the name of a Ukrainian antisemitic tyrant, to that of Tishbi, a Hebrew acronym for resident of Shefeya in Israel.

The Tishbi Winery is run by the Tishbi family, headed by Yonathan Tishbi.

David's son, Rabbi Eliezer Wolfson, of Glasgow's Newton Mearns Hebrew Congregation, made a surprise visit to the winery.

David said: "Eliezer was given tremendous hospitality in their beautiful visitor centre.

"Subsequently, just a few weeks ago, Phyllis's daughter, Janice Bishop, and her husband, Avrom, visited and were warmly welcomed."

Phyllis said: "We thought we had no one left of my mother's family. It is incredible. I am so moved by it."

David said: "The Tishbi family extended their family tree to include their new-found relatives.

"The vacuum has been filled. The peace and joy between both branches of the family is tangible."

Sybil wants to catch up

SYBIL Derber wants to catch up with her old friends.

Sybil left Manchester 42 years ago. She had been a member of the Waterpark Club YPZ and FZY.

Although not a graduate, she was a member of the Jewish Graduate Society.

She was also part of was The Five Wheels charity, helping to buy an ambulance for Magen David Adom.

Sybil attended both the Temple School and Cheetham Collegiate School.

She is planning to visit Manchester in the near future and would like to hear from her old friends.


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